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Persistent violations




Situated to the east of Vietnam across the South China Sea, the Philippines is made up of more than 7,000 volcanic islands, although most of its 95 million population live on just 11 of these. Having previously been under the control of a succession of foreign powers, its independence in 1946 has led to internal political instability and continuing human rights violations. Major children’s rights concerns include the recruitment of children into the army.


The Philippines is made up of more than 7000 volcanic islands spread across 300,000 square kilometres to the east of Vietnam across the South China Sea. Large portions of the country are mountainous, though the low lying islands are particularly prone to climate change and rising seas. The capital city is Manila.

Population and language

Almost 95 million people live in the Philippines, a population largely of Malay descent, though many Filipinos are of mixed ancestry.

Filipino is the national language, English is an official language and as many as 150 native languages and dialects are spoken across the country. A large majority of the population are Roman Catholics (82.9 per cent), though there are also substantial numbers of Protestants (5.4 per cent), Muslims (4.6 per cent), and followers of the Iglesia ni Cristo faith (2.3 per cent).[1]


Europeans first discovered the Islands in 1521, during Magellan's expedition to circumnavigate the globe. The Spanish later established a settlement on the islands and asserted their rule for the next 300 years. In 1898, following the Philippine Revolution, Spain ceded the Philippines to the United States which oversaw political reforms including the establishment of English as the national language and the disestablishment of the Catholic Church. The Philippines were established as a Commonwealth in 1935 with a view to achieving full independence within 10 years, but the process was interrupted by the Second World War.

For 40 years, Moro rebels have fought for a separate Islamic state within the country, a conflict which has cost the lives of more than 120,000 people. A peace deal was signed in 2012 which could pave the way for greater autonomy in the Mindanao region.[2]


In 1946, the Philippines achieved independence from the United States, though it became notorious for corruption, political repression and human rights violations, particularly under the rule of President Marcos. Following the deposition of Marcos in 1986, the country introduced a new Constitution and initiated a move towards democratic politics, though a Communist insurgency continued alongside repeated coup attempts. Two successive Presidents throughout the 1990s and 2000s faced impeachment proceedings[3] and were charged of electoral fraud[4] respectively. In 2010, current president Benigno Aquino was elected president on a platform aimed at fighting corruption and stimulating employment.[5]


The national economy has performed well in recent years, achieving an average growth in excess of 5 per cent over the last 10 years. Despite the global financial crisis and rising fuel and food prices, the Philippines has shown remarkable performance and achieved its highest level of growth in 30 years in 2010. Nonetheless, the World Bank has noted that this financial success has not translated into the alleviation of poverty across the whole country.[6]1 Almost a quarter of the population live on less than US$1.25 (adjusted for PPP).[7]

Media and civil society

Reporters Without Borders rated the country 140 out of 179 in its Press Freedom Index of 2011/12, a ranking indicating significant barriers to media freedom in the country. Constitutional guarantees of freedom of speech and expression are in place in the country, and there are few legal limitations on speech, such as privacy or obscenity laws, but a number of serious restrictions on press freedom remain. Libel is a criminal offence, punishable by imprisonment or a fine, and Freedom House has reported that the frequency of libel suits has resulted in a situation in which “the mere threat of such charges is often enough to stifle criticism of officials and public figures”.[8]

The most serious threat facing journalists in the Philippines, however, is the that of violence and death. The situation has calmed significantly since the 2009 Ampatuan massacre, in which 29 journalists and 3 media workers were killed, but threats towards and assassinations of journalists continue. The Committee to Protect Journalists reported that two journalists were killed in 2011,[9] and RWB continued to report on the killing of journalists throughout 2012.[10]

Human rights and children's rights

The armed conflict in the Philippines has given rise to serious human rights violations in the country, including those affecting children. The Special Representative of the Secretary-General on children and armed conflict reported in 2012 that children continued to be recruited into armed groups and noted an increase in the number of children who had been so recruited since 2010.[11] Human Rights Watch has also reported that the Philippine army had continued to use schools for military operations during 2012.[12]

Non-governmental organisations have also raised concerns over a broad range of human rights abuses. Human Rights Watch has continued to report on the high rate of extra-judicial killings and enforced disappearances in the country. Though the incidence of this kind of violence has decreased since President Aquino took office, local organisations have reported 114 cases since 2010.[13] Restrictions on sexual and reproductive rights, particularly the strict anti-abortion laws and consequential high rate of illegal and unsafe abortions are also a serious problem in the country.[14]

  1. The National Statistical Coordination Board, “A view of the Philippines” 13 January 2011
  2. The Guardian, “Philippines peace deal is far from a done deal” 7 October 2012
  3. The Economist, “Impeaching the Philippines' President” 7 December 2000
  4. BBC, [ “Philippines ex-leader Glorio Arroyo arrested for fraud”] 8 November 2011
  5. The Guardian, “Benigno Aquino II set for landslide Philippines election victory” 11 May 2010
  6. World Bank, “Philippines Country Overview”
  7. UNDP, “Philippines country Profile- Human Development Indicators”
  8. Freedom House, “Freedom of the Press 2012: Philippines”
  9. Freedom House, “Freedom of the Press 2012: Philippines”
  10. Reporters Without Borders, “Radio host gunned down, motive unknown” 9 November 2012
  11. Office of the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for children and armed conflict, Report of the Secretary-General to the Security Council (A/66/782-S/2012/261) issued 26 April 2012
  12. Human Rights Watch, “World Report 2013: Philippines”
  13. Human Rights Watch, “World Report 2013: Philippines”
  14. Amnesty International, “World Report 2012: Philippines”


Quick Facts

  • Population: 94,852,000 (UNDESA, 2011)
  • Population under 18: 39,420,500 (UNICEF, 2012)
  • Number of internet users: 33,600,000 or 32.4 per cent of the population (InternetWorldStats, 2012)
  • Human Development Index ranking: 114 (UNDP, 2013)
  • Happy Planet Index ranking: 25 (New Economics Foundation, 2012)