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August 2022

Human Rights Watch welcomes the opportunity to provide input to the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (the “Committee”) ahead of its consideration of a List of Issues for the upcoming review of the Philippines. This submission highlights areas of concern that Human Rights Watch hopes will inform the Committee’s consideration of the Philippine government’s compliance with its obligations under the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR). It proposes issues and questions that Committee members may wish to raise with the government of the Philippines. This submission includes information on the shackling of people with psychosocial disabilities and protection of education from attack during armed conflict.

Shackling of People with Psychosocial Disabilities (articles 11 and 12)

In October 2020 Human Rights published a report, Living in Chains: Shackling of People with Psychosocial Disabilities Worldwide, documenting the practice of shackling of people with psychosocial disabilities (mental health conditions) in 60 countries around the world, including in the Philippines.[1] The report found that globally, hundreds of thousands of men, women, and children—some as young as 10—with psychosocial disabilities have been shackled—chained or locked in confined spaces—at least once in their lives.[2] Many are held in overcrowded, filthy rooms, sheds, cages, or animal shelters and are forced to eat, sleep, urinate, and defecate in the same tiny area. The inhumane practice of shackling exists due to inadequate support and mental health services as well as widespread beliefs that stigmatize people with psychosocial disabilities. Shackling often occurs in homes because there are no services available in the community and families who struggle to cope with the demands of caring for a relative with a psychosocial disability may feel they have no choice but to shackle them. The time periods range from days and weeks, to months, and even years.

The nature of shackling means that people live in very restrictive conditions that reduce their ability to stand or move at all.[3] People who are shackled to one another are often forced to go to the toilet and sleep together. Shackling impacts a person’s mental as well as physical health. A shackled person can be affected by post-traumatic stress, malnutrition, infections, nerve damage, muscular atrophy, and cardio-vascular problems.

The former UN Special Rapporteur on torture, Juan E. Méndez, has explicitly noted that shackling “unequivocally amount[s] to torture even if committed by non-State actors under conditions in which the State knows or ought to know about them.”[4]

Human Rights Watch has learned from nongovernment organizations that, particularly in remote provinces in the Philippines, the shackling or arbitrary detention of people with psychosocial disabilities is not uncommon, mainly because of poverty and lack of access to services.

Media in the Philippines have reported several cases of shackling over the years, depicting people with psychosocial disabilities in severe or dire conditions. In one case in 2021, in General Santos City, in the southern Philippines, twin boys, 15, were shown naked while crawling through mud and in chains.[5] In another 2021 case, in Minglanila town, in the central Philippine province of Cebu, an 11-year-old girl was shown in a video chained to her bed. The report said she has been chained for the last eight years.[6]

Human Rights Watch encourages the Committee to ask the Philippine government:

  • Is there official data on the number of people who are currently shackled or have been subjected to shackling in the Philippines?
  • What steps has the government taken to eliminate the practice of shackling of people with psychosocial disabilities?
  • What steps has the government taken to develop adequate, quality, and voluntary community-based support and mental health services?

Human Rights Watch asks the Committee to consider including the following recommendations in its concluding observations on the Philippines:

  • Ban shackling in law and in practice.
  • Develop a time-bound plan to shift progressively to voluntary community-based mental health support, and independent living services.
  • Comprehensively investigate state and private institutions in which people with mental health conditions live, with the goal of stopping chaining and ending other abuses.
  • Create and carry out a deinstitutionalization policy and a time-bound action plan, based on the values of equality, independence, and inclusion for people with disabilities. Preventing institutionalization should be an important part of this plan. The government should include people with disabilities and their representative organizations in developing and carrying out the plan.
  • Conduct public information campaigns to raise awareness about psychosocial disabilities and the rights of people with disabilities, especially among alternative mental health service providers and the broader community, in partnership with people with lived experiences of psychosocial disability.

Protection of Education from Attack (article 13)

Armed hostilities continued in the Philippines in 2020 and 2021 in Mindanao and the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, in the south, and in Negros and the Central Visayas region, in the center of the country. Violence and conflict in the Philippines affected children and hindered access to education.[7] Children from the Indigenous Lumad group were particularly affected; Lumad schools were forcibly closed, by closure orders, permit non-renewal, or destruction by presumed paramilitaries.[8]

In 2020, the Global Coalition to Protect Education from Attack (GCPEA) identified at least two incidents of attacks on schools. On May 26, 2020, 10 members of the Philippine Army and National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict, dressed in civilian clothes, reportedly threatened village officials to close a school in Kisante barangay, Cotabato province.[9] On August 26, 2020, around 50 members of a paramilitary group reportedly attacked a Lumad school in Sitio Laburon, Bukidnon province; they knocked down school walls and tore up textbooks.[10]

The UN Secretary-General reported that there were five verified attacks on schools and “protected persons related to schools” in 2021, for which the Armed Forces of the Philippines were responsible for two incidents, the Philippines National Police responsible for two incidents, and the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters were responsible for one incident.[11]

The Philippines’ 1992 Special Protection of Children against Abuse, Exploitation and Discrimination Act declares children to be “Zones of Peace” and states: “To attain this objective, the following policies shall be observed … public infrastructure such as schools … shall not be utilized for military purposes such as command posts, barracks, detachments, and supply depots.”[12] In 2019, the Special Protection of Children in Situations of Armed Conflict Act made attacks on schools a criminal offense, with potential sentences of between 14 and 20 years, with “attacks on schools” being defined to include “occupation … of schools … or disruption of educational activities.”[13]

In 2022, the United Nations Secretary General encouraged governments to endorse the Safe Schools Declaration,[14] an inter-governmental political commitment that provides countries the opportunity to express political support for the protection of students, teachers, and schools during times of armed conflict.[15] As of August 2022, 114 countries have endorsed the Safe Schools Declaration. However, the Philippines has not done so.[16]

Suggested Questions

  • How many individuals have been prosecuted for attacks on schools during the reporting period?

Suggested Recommendations

  • Endorse the Safe Schools Declaration, and share with other endorsing countries examples of Philippines’ laws and policies protecting schools from attack and preventing the use of schools for military purposes.

[1] Human Rights Watch, Living in Chains: Shackling of People with Psychosocial Disabilities Worldwide (New York: Human Rights Watch, 2020),

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid., p. 4.

[4] UN Human Rights Council, Follow up report of the Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment on his follow-up visit to the Republic of Ghana, A/HRC/31/57/Add.2, February 25, 2015, (accessed August 4, 2022).

[5] “Twins with mental disabilities chained, abandoned at GenSan” (“Kambal na may kapansanan sa pag-iisip, ikinadena at inabandona sa GenSan”), GMA News Balitambayan, November 22, 2021, (accessed August 4, 2022).

[6] “11-year-old girl in Cebu chained to her bed for eight years” (“11-anyos na babae sa Cebu, walong taon nang nakagapos sa higaan”), GMA News Balitambayan, July 19, 2021, (accessed August 4, 2022).

[7] Global Coalition to Protect Education from Attack (GCPEA), “Turkey Country Profile,” in Education Under Attack 2022: A Global Study of Attacks on Schools, Universities, their Students and Staff, June 2022, (accessed July 22, 2022), p. 175.

[8] “Filipino children continue missing education opportunities in another year of school closure,” UNICEF press release, August 25, 2021, (accessed August 4, 2022); “Fighting Against a World Without Education,” FundLife International news release, March 17, 2021, (accessed August 4, 2021); and Carlos H. Conde, “Troubling Raid on Philippine Indigenous School,” commentary, Human Rights Dispatch, February 17, 2021,

[9] GCPEA, “Turkey Country Profile,” in Education Under Attack 2022: A Global Study of Attacks on Schools, Universities, their Students and Staff, June 2022, (accessed July 22, 2022), p. 176.

[10] Ibid.

[11] UN Secretary-General, “Children and Armed Conflict,” S/2022/493, June 23, 2022, para. 285.

[12] Republic Act No. 7610, An Act Providing for Stronger Deterrence and Special Protection against Child Abuse, Exploitation, and Discrimination, Providing Penalties for its Violation and Other Purposes, June 17, 1992, art. X(22)(e).

[13] Republic Act No. 11188, An Act Providing for the Special Protection of Children in Situations of Armed Conflict and Providing Penalties for Violations Thereof, January 10, 2019, secs. 5 & 9.

[14] UN Secretary-General, “Children and Armed Conflict,” S/2022/493, June 23, 2022, para. 291.

[15] Safe Schools Declaration, May 28, 2015, (accessed August 4, 2022).

[16] The Global Coalition to Protect Education from Attack, “Safe Schools Declaration Endorsements,” undated, (accessed August 4, 2022).

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