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(New York) – Philippine President Benigno Aquino III’s six-year term in office will end in mid-2016 without achieving his promised goal to significantly improve human rights in the country, Human Rights Watch said today in its World Report 2016. There has been little accountability for the killings of indigenous leaders, activists, and journalists, and other serious abuses during his administration.

A boy and his father shovel ore from the Bosigon River in Malaya, Camarines Norte. © 2015 Mark Z. Saludes for Human Rights Watch

In the 659-page World Report 2016, its 26th edition, Human Rights Watch reviews human rights practices in more than 90 countries. In his introductory essay, Executive Director Kenneth Roth writes that the spread of terrorist attacks beyond the Middle East and the huge flows of refugees spawned by repression and conflict led many governments to curtail rights in misguided efforts to protect their security. At the same time, authoritarian governments throughout the world, fearful of peaceful dissent that is often magnified by social media, embarked on the most intense crackdown on independent groups in recent times.

“Since his election, President Aquino held out the promise of a rights-respecting Philippines for which he has sadly been unable to deliver,” said Phelim Kine, deputy Asia director. “While the number of serious violations has declined during Aquino’s administration, ongoing killings of prominent activists and the lack of successful prosecutions mean there’s nothing to prevent an upsurge of abuses in the future.”

In the first eight months of 2015, Philippine military and paramilitary groups allegedly killed more than a dozen tribal leaders and tribal community members, local rights groups reported. Military operations in areas in Mindanao, heavily populated by indigenous peoples, contributed to the displacement of 243,000 since January, according to the United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR). Many of those displaced faced inadequate food, shelter, and health care.

Nine journalists were killed in 2015 – three of them over 10 days in August. Only one suspect was reported arrested in these attacks. Killings of alleged petty criminals, drug dealers, and others by “death squads” or contract killers in several cities continued unabated. In some cases, the killings were publicly encouraged by local officials such as presidential candidate and Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte.

Children throughout the Philippines face a wide range of human rights abuses. As a September 2015 Human Rights Watch report documented, in small-scale gold mining, children are exposed to extremely hazardous work conditions, working deep underground, diving underwater to dig for gold, and processing ore with toxic mercury.

Armed conflict prevented children in a number of areas from attending school, and paramilitaries raided several schools, killing a school administrator in August. In Manila in November, authorities detained hundreds of poor and homeless, among them many children, to clear the capital of street dwellers during the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit, a practice previously used during high-profile events.

“While Aquino’s presidency has had a mixed record on rights issues, ultimately he has failed to make the institutional reforms to ensure a lasting positive human rights legacy,” Kine said. “The Philippines’ next president must be prepared to tackle deep-seated impunity for abuses by state security forces and the corrupt and politicized criminal justice system.” 

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