“Status of Freedom” in the Philippines in 2015?

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“Status of Freedom” in the Philippines in 2015?

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boholano-thumbIn the thick of our 2016 national and local elections and political campaign, we may well adopt the assessment of “Freedom in the Philippines by the international Freedom House Organization.” We need to know objectively.

“OVERVIEW: “In March [2015] the Government of the Philippines and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), the country’s largest rebel group, signed a landmark, comprehensive peace treaty that provides a roadmap for peace. A power-sharing arrangement in a new self-governed region, Bangsamoro, will replace and add territory to the current Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) by 2016. It is hoped that the treaty will end more than 40 years of conflict between separatist Moros, an indigenous Muslim group, and the government in the southern Philippines. The peace agreement provisions must be approved by Congress and in a referendum in Mindanao before they will go into effect.”

Unfortunately, the death of 44 Constabulary commandos, several Moro Islamic Liberation Front members, and a few civilians in the operation to kill a Malayasian terrorist in Maguindanao on January 25, 2015 has prevented Congress from approving the proposed basic law to authorize the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Mindanao. The ongoing campaign for national and local elections on May 9, 2016 has aggravated the difficulty.

“President Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino’s popularity suffered in 2014 due to the government’s slow response in advancing a comprehensive rehabilitation plan for regions affected by 2013 Typhoon Haiyan (Yolanda).

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“The Philippines continued to clash with China over rights to disputed waters in the South China Sea, and both countries have seized fishing boats. In March 2014, the Philippines filed an arbitration case against China with the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague.”

POLITICAL RIGHTS AND CIVIL LIBERTIES. Political Rights: 26 / 40 [Key]

“A. Electoral Process: 9 / 12. “While open and competitive, elections in the Philippines are typically marred by fraud, intimidation, and political violence, though conditions have improved in recent years. The 2013 congressional, provincial, municipal, and village-level (“barangay”) elections were largely peaceful.”

  1. Political Pluralism and Participation: 10 / 16. “Political parties typically have weak ideological identities. Their legislative coalitions are exceptionally fluid, and members of Congress often change party affiliation. Distribution of power is strongly affected by kinship networks, as is the pattern of leadership.”

“Current president Aquino, the son of a former president, heads his own political dynasty. Each of these clans has a strong regional power base and draws on the support of other political families. The nature of election-related funding contributes to the concentration of power…”

“The Roman Catholic Church in the Philippines has historically played a significant role in politics. In 2013, several dioceses publicly opposed the reelection of specific senators and House members who voted in support of the 2012 Responsible Parenthood and Reproductive Health Act (RH Law). In the past, church leaders publicly described the attributes of a worthy candidate.”

“C. Functioning of Government: 7 / 12. “Corruption and cronyism are rife in business and government. A few dozen leading families continue to hold a disproportionate share of land, corporate wealth, and political power. Local “bosses” often control their respective areas, limiting accountability and committing abuses of power. High-level corruption also abounds. The Philippines was ranked 85 out of 175 countries and territories surveyed in Transparency International’s 2014 Corruption Perceptions Index.”

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“A culture of impunity, stemming in part from case backlogs in the judicial system, hampers the fight against corruption. The country’s official anticorruption agencies, the Office of the Ombudsman and the Presidential Anti-Graft Commission (PAGC), have mixed records.”

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“A 2013 report by the Commission on Audit found widespread abuses in the use of the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) [“Pork barrel”] by members of Congress. All lawmakers receive annual budgets from the PDAF account that they can direct to local development projects. xxx At the end of 2013, the Supreme Court found the PDAF to be unconstitutional and halted the use of the funds. Three high-profile senators were arrested in relation to the scandal in June and July 2014. In October, four former congressmen were formally indicted, and 24 others were accused of managing bogus nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) that received PDAF funds or participated in the scam. In September, an associate justice of the anticorruption court was dismissed after being found guilty of gross misconduct related to the PDAF scandal.”

“In July, the anticorruption court ordered former president Gloria Macapagal Arroyo to be suspended from Congress temporarily in connection with her role in a broadband network deal with a Chinese company. Arroyo has been under hospital arrest since 2012 on charges related to the misuse of state lottery funds. She is also implicated in several other corruption cases stemming from her tenure as president.”

“President Aquino came to power on a reform agenda and has made some progress on open and democratic governance. Local governments have been required to post procurement and budget data on their websites, and in 2012 the national government began participatory budgeting at various levels.”

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Civil Liberties: 37 / 60. “D. Freedom of Expression and Belief: 14 / 16

“The Constitution provides for freedoms of expression and the press. The private media are vibrant and outspoken, although content often consists more of innuendo and sensationalism than substantive investigative reporting.”

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“The Philippines remains one of the most dangerous places in the world for journalists. While in 2014 the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) confirmed only one death of a journalist as linked to her work, two others were murdered during the year. CPJ ranked the Philippines as the third-worst country in the world on its 2014 impunity index, with dozens of unresolved murder cases registered over the past decade.”

“Freedom of religion is guaranteed under the constitution and generally respected in practice. Academic freedom is also generally respected.”

  1. Associational and Organizational Rights: 8 / 12

“Citizen activism is robust, and demonstrations are common. However, permits are required for rallies, and antigovernment protests are often dispersed. Xxx “The Philippines has many active human rights and social welfare groups, along with other NGOs. Various labor rights and farmers’ organizations that are dedicated to ending extrajudicial killings and helping families of the disappeared face serious threats, and their offices are occasionally raided.

“Trade unions are independent, but in order to register, a union must represent at least 20 percent of a given bargaining unit. Large firms are increasingly using contract workers, who are prohibited from joining unions. Approximately 5 percent of the labor force is unionized.”

  1. Rule of Law: 5 / 16

“Judicial independence has traditionally been strong, particularly in the Supreme Court. The efforts of the judiciary are stymied, however, by inefficiency, low pay, intimidation, corruption, and high vacancy rates, all of which have contributed to excessive delays and a backlog of more than 600,000 cases. Judges and lawyers often depend on local power holders for basic resources and salaries, which can lead to compromised verdicts.”

“The trial for alleged perpetrators of the 2009 Maguindanao massacre, in which 58 civilians—including 32 journalists—were killed to stop the registration of a local political candidate, continued in 2014. The trial has featured witness intimidation and flawed forensic investigations, and only half of the 197 suspects have been arraigned. At least eight witnesses and their families have been killed since 2009, including one in 2014. The media have complained of limited access to court proceedings.”

“Arbitrary detention, disappearances, kidnappings, and abuse of suspects continue. The police and military have been implicated in corruption, extortion, torture of detainees, extrajudicial killings, and involvement in local rackets. While torture is illegal, no case of torture has resulted in a conviction.” A December 2014 Amnesty International report noted that fear of reprisal by authorities and lack of knowledge about, and legal obstacles to, victims filing criminal charges contribute to ongoing impunity….”  In January, 10 members of the PNP were fired after a visit by the Philippine Commission on Human Rights to an unnamed detention site revealed the use of a “wheel of torture” to determine the method used to extract information from detainees. An alleged 41 detainees were victims of torture, although only half filed complaints, and several withdrew their affidavits.”

“The lack of effective witness protection has been a key obstacle to investigations against members of the security forces. Convictions for extrajudicial killings are extremely rare. In August, retired major general and former congressman Jovito Palparan was arrested for his alleged role in the kidnapping and illegal detention of two students in 2006.”

“A May Human Rights Watch report revealed evidence of a death squad in Mindanao that was allegedly formed to combat crime and target political opponents via extrajudicial mechanisms, including murder in public places. The squad is also alleged to have been hired out for other politically motivated assassinations, including those of a judge, a journalist, and a tribal leader. A 2012 law criminalizes forced disappearances.”

“Firearms are common and poorly regulated, though a 2013 law provides comprehensive rules for the possession, manufacture, and sale of guns and ammunition.”

“Kidnappings for ransom remain common in the South, perpetrated in large part by the militant group Abu Sayyaf, which advocates for an Islamic state.”

  1. Personal Autonomy and Individual Rights: 10 / 16

“Outside of conflict zones, citizens enjoy freedom of travel and choice of residence.” The UN Development Programme has found the Philippines to be one of the few countries in Asia to have significantly closed the gender gap in the areas of health and education.”

My email is pepevabueva@gmail.com  (By Jose “Pepe” Abueva)

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