Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo

President of the Republic of the Philippines 2001 - 2010

Healing the Wounds of EDSA

I. Campaign against Corruption

Alongside copious economic policy reforms, the battle against corruption has been one of Government's priority issues. Faster-paced and results-oriented implementation of anti-corruption projects did in fact bring numerous tangible results. New laws, executive and administrative orders related to anti-corruption were passed, whilst innovative strategies introduced in the President's second term have shown encouraging signs for success, such as strengthening the anti-corruption agencies, more extensive social value formation at the national level, and the use of e-procurement in the government system.

In the last nine years, the Government focused on strengthening anti-graft and corruption agencies, initiating reforms in agencies highly perceived to be graft-ridden, and prosecuting the officials guilty of misconduct. From 2001 to 2008, a total of 153 punitive and 902 non-punitive recommendations were submitted by the Presidential Anti-Graft Commission to the Office of the President for disposition. As of 2008, a total of 127 officials had been dismissed, suspended or reprimanded for graft-related cases. Moreover, increased strength was granted to the Office of the Ombudsman via additional budget and the hiring of additional investigators and prosecutors. As a direct result, the OMB was able to increase its conviction rates from 19% in 2006, to 55% in 2007, then to 73.4% in 2008—the last one notably the highest in the 21 years existence of this agency.

As a result of the Government's 'Run after Tax Evaders' (RATE) program, a total of 121 cases were filed in various revenue-collecting agencies. Moreover, with the staunchly implemented 'Run After the Smugglers' (RATS) program, 46 new lawyers were hired to strengthen the Legal service department of the Bureau of Customs, while 78 criminal cases were filed covering shipments valued at PhP1.7 billion. In concert with the RATS program, the Presidential Anti-Smuggling group has seized an estimated PhP637 million worth of assorted goods.

The President has directed all agencies to cut by half the number of signatures involved in government transactions. Local government units are likewise implementing their own signature reduction projects, whilst the CSC complemented this drive with a directive to all government offices, most especially frontline service agencies, to post flowcharts, documents required fees, processing times, and the names of officials responsible for the evaluation and approval of licenses and permits. Reducing the number of signatures and steps clearly reduces opportunities for illicit transactions.

The government has recognized the capability of information and communications technology to not only expedite processes, but more importantly, to induce transparency and minimize direct interface in government transactions between revenue collectors and the transacting public. In addition to electronic bidding, information and communication technology applications have been pursued in the filing of taxes, posting of budget releases, vehicle registrations, authentications of birth certificates, issuances of passports, and of course, most recently, the automation of elections. Moreover, the e-commerce act, passed in 2000, requires all public agencies to automate processes and transactions and to network amongst themselves for purposes of information sharing and knowledge management.

A decade of decentralization has increased the accountability of local governments across vital sectors: health, local public works, and agricultural development, among other areas. The decentralization strategy adopted by the government has had a positive impact on the quality of governance, especially in terms of reorientation of the national government from a command and control to a service provider role. Decentralization has been a key motivator for the increase in productive efficiency via limiting the leakage of funds and other resources. In addition, the National Government has since implemented various developmental programs – relative to basic services and infrastructure support—that are necessary to improve the delivery of services by the LGUs and to boost, sustain and impel continued socio-economic growth of local constituents.

However, decentralization has also created a subset of corruption related issues. In some instances, localization worsens corruption, when vested private interests impel local governments. Potential losses from decentralized procurements can likewise be problematic, because with less oversight, local governments could prove to be more susceptible to capture or collusion with local contractors. Given the aforementioned, the government has therefore set in stone the mantra of increased accountability and placed greater pressure for performance upon local government units. LGUs have been equipped with greater Web presence enabling the easier dissemination and supervision of information to their constituents.

II. Revival of a Productive Bureaucracy

In support of policy and structural reform designed to terminate corruption, Government uniformly transformed the bureaucracy into a more efficient organization via comprehensive rationalization programs comprising enhanced systems and procedures. Executive Order No. 366, implemented on October 4, 2004, ordered an exhaustive review of the operations and organizations of the Executive Branch to rationalize functions of agencies and to direct and streamline Government's efforts and resources on vital services. Since its implementation, more than 11,269 redundant positions have been abolished, some Php 1.231 billion of savings in Personal Services were generated from the aforementioned positions, and a total of 37 Rationalization plans have been approved. Within the re-structuring program, other activities include implementing impact mitigation measures for those personnel who may be affected by the Rationalization Program, and developing holistic capacity-building programs for retained personnel.

Aligning with her goals for sector- and department-specific institutional reforms, the President implemented various strategies that serve to strengthen the institutional capacity of the agriculture, agrarian reform and natural resources (AARNR) service agencies. Institutional structure and operational protocols of DA have thus shifted from commodity-specific to functional lines starting October 2004, and from production-side intervention bias to the inclusion of demand-side strategies

In order to improve the transparency, professionalism and efficiency of the regulatory system, the Government called for review of the civil service rules on appointive positions in order to, among others, prevent regulatory capture and promote competitiveness of this government sector. It also called for review and revision of the procedures and processes of the regulatory agencies to improve transparency, accountability, timeliness, effectiveness and efficiency of their interventions. This has involved the following operational reforms:

  • Reduced the discretionary powers of the regulators through the establishment of clear and rule-based procedures and policies.
  • Minimized the number of procedures and persons involved in the regulatory process.
  • Reduced the barriers to entry and promoted competition.
  • Developed and implemented a comprehensive restructuring plan for the NIA to improve its financial and operational performance

To advance Government services, Republic Act NO. 9485, otherwise known as the 'Anti-Red Tape Act', signed into law on June 2007, constructed the path for increased transparency and expediency most especially in frontline government services. The Anti-Red Tape task force was also created to handle, monitor and strengthen the anti-Red tape module.

III. Defending Human Rights

The protection of each person's inherent dignity is ensured through a wide range of human rights. Every person has the right to the basic needs of life—food, shelter, clothing, medical care and social services. Through inter-related rights and duties, social order is achieved. Likewise, all citizens have the responsibility to respect these human rights and to fulfill their duties to the larger community. In order to achieve the main goal of promoting the common good, the primary duty of the citizens is to live in solidarity. Government institutions, on the other hand, have the responsibility of protecting the human rights of its citizens.

A. Human Rights Institutions

The Commission on Human Rights Philippines (CHRP) is an independent national human rights institution that protects every Filipino citizen within the country or residing abroad. The commission was formed under the 1987 Constitution to protect and uphold human rights of Filipino citizens. The CHRP's functions include the investigation of all violations committed against human rights, providing legal protection to every Filipino citizen, and providing assistance to the less privileged whose human rights have been violated, or those in need of security. Other functions include visiting powers to detention facilities such as jails and prisons, and setting up a continuous learning curriculum in order to boost respect for human rights. Finally, the CHRP is tasked to push Congress to promote human rights and to monitor the compliance of the Philippines with its international human rights treaty responsibilities.

The Presidential Human Rights Committee (PHRC), on the other hand, was established by the President on January 27, 2002 to serve as the central advisory body to the Executive in all matters concerning human rights issues in the country. The President further strengthened the committee's functions and membership in December of 2006. The committee is a concrete example of the government's dedication towards supporting and protecting human rights. The administration recognizes that much of the efforts undertaken should fall under the responsibility of the executive branch. Thus, all government agencies are directed to actively participate in the promotion of these rights. Human rights issues are, therefore, elevated to a high level of priority for the President.

The tasks of the PHRC are to bring aid and security to individuals who are victims of human rights violations, to assess and supervise all points of view regarding human rights, and to guarantee the Philippines' strict obligations under the international human rights instruments. The PHRC coordinates with lead agencies and working groups for each international human rights treaty to which the country is a party. Furthermore, the President has specifically ordered the committee to monitor cases of alleged extrajudicial killings and their progress through the criminal justice system.

Another vital role of the PHRC is to put together the National Human Rights Action Plan and Program (NHRAPP) in accordance with international human rights treaty obligations.

B. National Human Rights Action Plan and Program

The National Human Rights Action Plan and Program (NHRAPP) was designed to formulate programs that will improve the country's human rights standards. It maps out initiatives in the light of the principles and standards of international human rights instruments and based upon close study of the country's current human rights situation.

The plan seeks to achieve "full, decent, and productive employment for every Filipino worker", address health issues, eliminate discriminatory provisions in national laws, and enhance the situation of vulnerable groups such as women, children, the elderly, persons with disabilities, indigenous people, and persons living in poverty. It likewise identifies measures that shall ensure universal access to primary education. In addition, the plan encourages learning strategies for effective human rights education in all levels, including non-formal education.

C. Task Force USIG and the Melo Commission

Policies and programs have been introduced by Government to improve existing efforts at promoting human rights. In addition, preliminary investigations were initiated to give priority to the issue of extra-judicial killings.

In May 2006, the Task Force USIG of the PNP was created to look into the alleged killings of militant leaders and activists. Since 2001 to May 2009, out of the 115 cases of slain militant party list members/leftists, 64 cases were recorded while 11 of them were dismissed, 11 are still on trial while 21 of the cases are still pending at the Prosecutor's Office. The one case that was resolved ended with the conviction of one suspect; and another one was settled cordially.

By virtue of Administrative Order 211, s. 2007, the Task Force Against Political Violence or Task Force 211, was established to utilize all government agencies, political groups, religious and civil society, and sectoral organizations to prevent, examine, prosecute, and punish political violence. The protection of people and communities against violence, and promotion of a culture opposing violence, are of utmost importance. With this government and private sector partnership, 49 cases were filed.

In August 2006, the Melo Commission was created to examine activist and media killings. However, certain difficulties were met, such as the leftist and activist groups' lack of cooperation because they questioned the commission's independence. The commission, therefore, had to rely primarily on the findings of Task Force USIG. Despite the challenges faced by the commission, its creation alone is an important step by the government in addressing the problem.

D. AFP-PNP Human Rights Affairs Office

In order to better implement policies and programs that promote respect for human rights, human rights protection, and strict adherence to international human rights laws, the AFP-Human Rights Office (AFP-HRO) was created.

In June 2007, the PNP-Human Rights Affairs Office (HRAO) was established, together with the creation of Human Rights Desks in all Police Regional Offices, Provincial Police Offices, City Police Offices, Municipal Police Stations, and National Operation Support Units to take action against human rights violations.

The HRAO has been inspecting lock-up cells to monitor the observance of procedures and guidelines in detention management. As of March 31, 2009, a total of 727 lock-up cells with 1,147 detainees have been inspected, out of the 1,496 Municipal Police Stations all over the country.

The Philippine criminal justice system, together with the CHRP, is promoting a rights-based system of criminal justice. Jail visits, independent fact-finding investigations, and human rights advocacy are only some of the interventions being used to ensure that this is being implemented.

E. Legislative Actions

The Human Security Act was signed in 2007 to counteract the possible perils to human rights that might arise from the war on terrorism. It provides sufficient safeguards for the protection of the rights of an individual against possible abuses of law enforcement agencies.

Cruel punishment and torture are prohibited under the Constitution of the Philippines and will result in corresponding penalties under the Revised Penal Code. The Juvenile Justice and Welfare Act, the Anti-Sexual Harassment Law, and the Anti-Hazing Law all prevent cruel and torturous acts. The Administrative Disciplinary Machinery (2003) of the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology was created to provide for punishment of employees for the maltreatment and abuse of any prisoner under custody.

The Magna Carta for Disabled Persons was passed in order to reinforce the right of disabled persons to education, work, health and auxiliary services; as well as their right to organize, votes, and be elected. All government agencies have apportioned a fixed percentage of their budget to respond to the programs and services needed.

Further, the Magna Carta of Women was signed by President Arroyo in August 2009. This legislation seeks to protect women's rights at home, at work, and in all spheres of society. It aims to eliminate all forms of discrimination against women by promoting the human rights and basic freedoms of Filipino women.

F. Safeguarding the Rights of Women and Children

Together with other government agencies, the National Commission on the Role of Filipino Women (NCRFW) is working to monitor and support the developments of women's human rights. In relation to Violence Against Women and Children, the Supreme Court has developed a Committee on Gender-Responsiveness in the Judiciary and has also implemented the Rule on Violence Against Women and their Children to support this cause. This would give protection to the rights of the family members, particularly protection of women and children from all forms of violence.

To promote a child-sensitive and child-friendly society, Child 21 was established by the Philippine National Strategic Framework for Plan Development for Children through provisions, principles, and standards of the Convention on the Rights of the Child. The Millennium Development Goals and the World Fit for Children Goals are also included in the National Plan of Action for Children for 2005-2010. On June 18, 2007, the Comprehensive Programme on Child Protection was launched.

G. Increased participation of the Philippines in International Bodies

"As a responsible member of the international community, we are doing our part to create a world that is more humane."

–President Arroyo, Reception for the 110th Anniversary of Philippine Independence, 2008

The government has abolished the death penalty in June 2006 with the approval of Republic Act 9346, or Act Prohibiting the Imposition of Death Penalty in the Philippines, and has condemned any form of killings. As such, the Philippines co-sponsored and co-authored a resolution calling for a Moratorium on Executions, which was adopted by the UN General Assembly in 2007.

Being the lead agency for the Philippines' treaty compliance to the Convention Against Torture, the Department of Interior and Local Government established an inter-agency working group for its monitoring and implementation.

The Philippines engaged in improving Information and Communication Technology (ICT) for persons with disabilities (PWD). The UN Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (UN-ESCAP) and the Asia Pacific Center on Disability (APCD) commended the Philippines as one of the Asia Pacific Region's best models of ICT for PWDs. In 2003, the Philippines hosted 13 nations working with the UN-Division on Economic and Social Affairs. Two milestone documents were passed, namely, the Manila Declaration and the Recommendations on Accessible ICT that became the basis of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities' Article 9 on Accessibility.

The Philippines has also made a significant mark in closing the gender gap according to the 2007 Global Gender Gap Report, where it ranked 6th out of 128 countries.

With the Philippines being among the largest migrant-sending countries in the world, the Overseas Workers' Welfare Administration (OWWA) has provided a comprehensive program of benefits and services for Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs) and their families. To remain consistent with the standards set by the International Labor Organization (ILO) Conventions on the Establishment of an International System for the Maintenance of Rights in Social Security, the Philippine government signed agreements with other nations, such as Austria, Belgium, Canada, Quebec, France, Spain, Switzerland, and the United Kingdom. The Agreements provide for mutual assistance in the field of social security, equality of treatment for nationals of both countries, export of social security benefits, and accumulation of membership periods in both the host country and the Philippines. All legal and diplomatic means are being exerted to assist migrant workers abroad.

In 2007, the UN Special Rapporteur on Summary, Arbitrary and Extrajudicial Killings, Philip Alston, said in his report that, while the Philippine government is taking the necessary steps to address the problem, it still has a long way to go. However, in Prof. Alston's follow-up report to the Human Rights Council in Geneva, Switzerland in 2009, he acknowledged the progress made under the Arroyo administration's promotion and protection of human rights. He said that since his visit in 2007, the number of unexplained killings "has fallen dramatically by 70%".

In a separate meeting held in October of 2009, PHRC Chairman and Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita had a dialogue with UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbor. The UN HCHR said that the Philippines' engagement with the international system is a major step in addressing the killings of journalists and activists. The UN High Commissioner further commended the Philippine government for playing a lead role in developing human rights cooperation at the regional level, such as championing an ASEAN Human Rights Mechanism. Both Arbor and Alston expressed their appreciation to the Philippine government for inviting Alston, after about 30 other countries had refused to invite him.

In April 2008, the Philippine government took part in the Universal Periodic Review and reported on the status of human rights protection in the country, as well as the government's gains in human rights protection. The Universal Periodic Review (UPR) is a new and unique mechanism of the UN that consists of the review of human rights practices of all 192 UN Member States once every four years. The Philippine government was commended by other member countries for its cooperation with the international community, participation in the ratification of main international human rights treaties, and the protection of the most vulnerable sectors in society.

H. Future Challenges

The protection of human rights in the country remains a continuing challenge, for a variety of reasons. Although implementation of programs has been set in place, their constant supervision and scrutiny is mandatory. Moreover, the Philippines, as a developing country, continues to experience the consequences of decades-long internal conflicts that impede growth, stability, and human rights protection in conflict areas.

Nonetheless, the government has stood firm in its commitment to human rights. Progress is not only measured by the total eradication of human rights violations, but also by the concrete actions of the institutions designated to protect the Filipino people. The Commission on Human Rights and the Presidential Human Rights Committee are both strong-willed and dedicated bodies that will serve as guardians of human rights. The Government recognizes the gravity of human rights issues and thus, responds to these challenges with vigor. Active engagement with the international community regarding human rights issues certainly brings credit to the country's efforts. Locally, the government will continue to fight for the equal protection of its citizens against all forms of abuses, violence, and all things that trample on the dignity of the Filipino.

IV. Fortifying National Harmony

Despite the efforts and achievements of the Government, the public perception of corruption and of government performance remains disappointing. The amalgam of solutions remain complex, the intricate challenges within our system challenging to remedy. The negative public perception, the deficiencies in public confidence generated by decades of discontent and destitution fueled by poverty and lack of opportunity, can only truly be addressed with continued economic growth, sustained opportunity, and enhanced standards of living

Sound political reforms and economic advancement are the chief drivers in unleashing a set of dynamics generating social and political change in this country, including increasing participation in the economy and in society, increasing access to education and information, and increasing mobility of peoples. It is instructive to go back to the injunction of the Catholics Bishop Conference of the Philippines at the height of street tumult directed against the President in 2005: "We should now move forward and address the more important and urgent problem of the grinding poverty of our people, which has to a considerable extent been caused by excessive politicking. Let us not further contribute to this poverty by our inordinate involvement in activities that further oppress the poor and divide our people."-Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines, September 13, 2005

The continuing drive of the Filipino people forward and onward, despite the profusion of controversies hounding the President, illustrates the movement towards a social and political culture that now acknowledges that civil unrest and disobedience are no longer acceptable solutions for change and growth. This can be taken as an indication of increased faith in the policies implemented by Government, as well as acknowledgement of the improvements that have taken place since the ascension of the President.

The President herself has repeatedly asserted that the country's 'destructive politics' incessantly threatens to undermine economic gains and derail its momentum for economic take-off. For stable and lasting development to be achieved, a national understanding must take root among all sectors of society regarding the interlocking components of the development challenge. That the Filipino people no longer resort to violent riots or protests is an encouraging sign that they are moving, slowly but surely, towards such an understanding. We may already be witnessing the evolution of a truly responsible civil society, one that is illuminated by a broad consensus concerning the benefits that accrue from enhanced governance, more efficient resource management, and genuine social equity.