Act No. 11469 for the Nation to Heal as One granted the president numerous broad and exceptional powers to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020. The Act also provided in Section 6(6) that “spreading false information regarding the COVID-19 crisis on social media and other platforms” was punishable by up to two months in jail and fines of up to one million pesos ($19,500). However, the Act was in effect only until June 2020 because the Philippine Congress did not act to extend it.
Last updated: 5 February 2021
In October 2020, the Philippine government approved the Implementing Rules and Regulations (IRR) of the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020 (Republic Act No. 11479). The constitutionality of the Anti-Terrorism Act (“ATA”) is being questioned before the Philippine Supreme Court by 37 groups of petitioners, including several civil society organizations and non-governmental groups. The Supreme Court will hold oral arguments on the ATA the first week of February 2021.
The inter-agency panel created to review deaths during drug-related police operations has submitted its initial reportdated 29 December 2020 to President Rodrigo Duterte. The creation of the inter-agency panel was first announced in June 2020 during the 44th United Nations Human Rights Council, when UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet delivered her report on human rights violations in the Philippines. In October 2020, during its 45th session, the UN Human Rights Council adopted a resolution on technical cooperation and capacity building on human rights in the Philippines.
Historically, civil society has played an important role in toppling dictators and bringing to light graft and corruption in the Philippines’ public and private sectors. Civil society has also aided the government in ensuring accountability and transparency within its ranks and in providing basic services to underprivileged and underserved citizens.
Recognizing the crucial contributions of its civil society to democracy, the Philippines adopted a policy to “encourage non-governmental, community-based, or sectoral organizations that promote the welfare of the nation” in the 1987 Constitution. The policy for civil society engagement and citizen participation has been operationalized in laws and regulations. Civic freedoms are protected by the Constitution and have been established by the Supreme Court in jurisprudence.
Despite these legal protections, civil society organizations (CSOs) and human rights defenders have continually been attacked and threatened for criticizing State policies and programs that adversely affect human rights and civic freedoms.
Civic space in the Philippines has shrunk significantly in the last five years, as the government relentlessly implements its anti-illegal drug campaign and anti-terror program. CSOs that criticize these policies have earned the ire of the President and his officials, who have persistently threatened and vilified civil society actors.
|Non-governmental organizations||Non-stock, non-profit corporations|
|Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC)||Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC)|
Barriers to Entry
|Registration of non-governmental organizations and non-stock, non-profit corporations is not mandatory. However, unregistered organizations do not enjoy tax benefits and may not be qualified to receive donations from government agencies.|
|Registration of non-governmental organizations and non-stock, non-profit corporations is not mandatory. However, unregistered organizations do not enjoy tax benefits and may not be qualified to receive donations from government agencies.|
Barriers to Operations/Activities
|Requirement to have a permit, license, or accreditation from government agencies to conduct certain activities.|
|Requirement to have a permit, license, or accreditation from government agencies to conduct certain activities.|
Activities of SEC-registered Non-stock, non-profit corporations must be in furtherance of the purposes listed in their Articles of Incorporation and By-Laws.
Barriers to Speech and/or Advocacy
|Several laws have been used to restrict the exercise of the right to free speech and advocacy, such as the Revised Penal Code provisions on defamatory expressions, including libel and slander, and the Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012 provision on online libel. The Revised Penal Code provisions on incitement to rebellion, insurrection, and sedition have also been used against critics and dissenters. The Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020 may also adversely affect the exercise of free speech and association in the Philippines.||Several laws have been used to restrict the exercise of the right to free speech and advocacy, such as the Revised Penal Code provisions on defamatory expressions, including libel and slander, and the Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012 provision on online libel. The Revised Penal Code provisions on incitement to rebellion, insurrection, and sedition have also been used against critics and dissenters. The Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020 may also adversely affect the exercise of free speech and association in the Philippines.|
Barriers to International Contact
|No legal barriers||No legal barriers|
Barriers to Resources
|No legal barriers||Funds received by non-stock, non-profit organizations are subject to the rules of the Anti-Money Laundering Act and the Terrorism Financing Prevention and Suppression Act, like other corporations and financial institutions.|
Registered non-stock, non-profit corporations may engage in profitable activities incidental to their operations. Any profit obtained from such activities must “be used for the furtherance of the purposes for which the corporation was organized.”
Barriers to Assembly
|The Philippine Constitution prohibits the passage of laws “abridging…the right of the people peaceably to assemble and petition the government for redress of grievances.” However, the Public Assembly Act of 1985 (Batas Pambansa Blg. 880) requires a written permit from the mayor’s office for any public assembly held in a public place. Only a written notice is required for assemblies held in designated or established freedom parks.||The Philippine Constitution prohibits the passage of laws “abridging…the right of the people peaceably to assemble and petition the government for redress of grievances.” However, the Public Assembly Act of 1985 (Batas Pambansa Blg. 880) requires a written permit from the mayor’s office for any public assembly held in a public place. Only a written notice is required for assemblies held in designated or established freedom parks.|
|110,818,325 (July 2021 est.)|
Type of Government
Life Expectancy at Birth
|Total population: 70.32 years (male 66.78 years, female: 74.03 years) (2021 est.)|
|Total population: 98.2% (male: 98.1%, female: 98.2%) (2015 est.)|
|Roman Catholic 80.6%, Protestant 8.2% (includes Philippine Council of Evangelical Churches 2.7%, National Council of Churches in the Philippines 1.2%, other Protestant 4.3%), other Christian 3.4%, Muslim 5.6%, tribal religions .2%, other 1.9%, none .1% (2010 est.)|
|Tagalog 24.4%, Bisaya/Binisaya 11.4%, Cebuano 9.9%, Ilocano 8.8%, Hiligaynon/Ilonggo 8.4%, Bikol/Bicol 6.8%, Waray 4%, other local ethnicity 26.1%, other foreign ethnicity .1% (2010 est.)|
GDP per capita
|$8,908 (2019 est.)|
|107 (2020)||1 – 182|
|34.13 (2019)||100 – 0|
|47.29(2019)||100 – 0|
|115 (2020)||1 – 198|
|Status: Partly Free|
Political Rights: 25
Civil Liberties: 34 (2020)
|Free/Partly Free/Not Free|
1 – 40
1 – 60
|54 (2020)||178– 1|
International and Regional Human Rights Agreements
Key International Agreements
International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR)
Optional Protocol to ICCPR (ICCPR-OP1) and
Optional Protocol to ICCPR (ICCPR-OP2-DP)
International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights (ICESCR)
Optional Protocol to ICESCR (OP-ICESCR)
International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD)
Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW)
Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women
Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC)
International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of their Families (ICRMW)
Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD)
ASEAN Human Rights Declaration
* Category includes ratification, accession, or succession to the treaty
Fundamental freedoms such as freedom of expression, freedom of peaceable assembly, and freedom of association are protected under Article III in the Constitutions Bill of Rights.
Section 4 of the Bill of Rights provides that “no law shall be passed abridging the freedom of speech, of expression, of the press, or the right of the people peaceably to assemble and petition the government for redress of grievances.”
Access to information on matters of public concern is provided in Section 7 of the same Article. This right is subject to limitations as may be provided by law. Currently, there is no national legislation on the access to information. Limitations are culled from jurisprudence, rules, and regulations. Included are privileged communication and information pertaining to national security and sensitive diplomatic matters. In 2016, departments, offices, and agencies under the executive branch were mandated to create their own People’s Freedom of Information Manuals by President Rodrigo Duterte through Executive Order No. 02.
The people’s right to association is protected under Section 8 of Article III. Section 8 states: “The right of the people, including those employed in the public and private sectors, to form unions, associations, or societies for purposes not contrary to law shall not be abridged.” The right to self-organization for government employees is reiterated in Section 2(5) of Article IX-B.
Section 15, Article XIII mandates the State to “respect the role of independent people’s organizations to enable the people to pursue and protect, within the democratic framework, their legitimate and collective interests and aspirations through peaceful and lawful means.”
Meanwhile, Section 16 of Article XIII protects the right to “effective and reasonable participation at all levels of social, political, and economic decision-making.” It provides for “the establishment of adequate consultation mechanisms” by law. Such participation is also mandated under Section 14 of Article X (Local Governments), which requires membership of representatives from non-governmental organizations in development councils.
National Laws and Regulations Affecting the CSO Sector
- Protection of Civic Freedoms
The Civil Code of the Philippines provides remedies against infringements of basic human rights. Article 32 allows the filing of a damages suit against those who directly or indirectly obstruct, defeat, violate, impede, or impair rights and liberties of another person. Article 19 of the Civil Code may also be used against those who exercise their rights to harm or abuse others.
Meanwhile, the special writs of amparo and habeas data have also been invoked for the protection of the life, liberty and security of human rights defenders and civil society leaders. The Supreme Court’s rules on procedures for environmental abuses include provisions against strategic lawsuits against public participation.
- Public Participation
Collaboration between NGOs and certain government entities is provided for in laws such as the Local Government Code, the Indigenous Peoples’ Rights Act, the Magna Carta of Women, and the Magna Carta for Disabled Persons.
- Formation and Registration
The creation and registration of non-stock, non-profit organizations are governed by the Revised Corporation Code. Some taxation benefits can be found in the National Internal Revenue Code. The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) and the Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR) have released memoranda and circulars affecting registered civil society organizations.
- Restrictions on Civic Freedoms
Some provisions of the Revised Penal Code have been used to restrict and stifle the exercise of civic freedoms. The Human Security Act (HSA) of 2007 and other anti-terrorism, anti-insurgency issuances of the Executive have been used to target CSOs critical of the government. The Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020, which repeals the HSA, has been enacted into law and took effect in July 2020. (See below “Anti-Terrorism Act”.)
Since the declaration of a state of public emergency, several COVID-19 related laws and issuances, such as the Bayanihan to Heal As One Act and the Mandatory Reporting of Notifiable Disease and Health Events of Public Health Concern Act, have been invoked by law enforcement to stifle online and offline dissent. However, this Act was in effect only until June 2020 because the Philippine Congress did not act to extend it.
- Anti-Terrorism Act
On 3 June 2020, the House of Representatives approved House Bill No. 6875, or the proposed Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020 on third and final reading. President Rodrigo Duterte earlier certified as urgent the enactment of this bill in a 1 June 2020 letter to the Speaker of the House of Representative.
The presidential certification came after the House Committees on Public Order and Safety and on National Defense and Security adopted the Senate’s anti-terrorism bill (Senate Bill No. 1083) in toto. They reasoned that the wholesale adoption of the Senate bill would forego the need to conduct bicameral conference committee hearings and expedite the passage of a new anti-terrorism law.
On July 3, 2020, the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020 was signed into law. Republic Act No. 11479 was published on the online version of the Official Gazette on the same date. As of January 2021, 37 petitions questioning the constitutionality of the RA 11479 have been filed before the Philippine Supreme Court.
The Philippine’s executive department approved the ATA’s implementing rules and regulations in October 2020. The IRR reiterated provisions of the ATA which have been criticized for vagueness and overbreadth. It also introduced new provisions such as the process of delisting after publication of the names of individuals and organizations designated as terrorists and the inclusion of “creative, artistic, and cultural expressions” among acts not considered as terrorism, depending on their purpose or intention.
The fast-track approval of the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020 was met with widespread protest. Many fear that the law’s vague and overbroad provisions will be used to stifle dissent and criticism.
The enacted law introduces new provisions which were not in the Human Security Act (HSA), such as Inciting to Commit Terrorist Acts and Recruitment to and Membership in A Terrorist Organization. It also expands the definition of terrorism, and broadens the power of state authorities regarding the Surveillance of Suspects and Interception and Recording of Communications and the Detention Without Judicial Warrant of Arrest on mere suspicion that a person engages in acts of terrorism.
Under the law, the Anti-Terrorism Council has the power on its own to designate persons and organizations as terrorists. The bill also allows the Anti-Money Laundering Council to freeze the designated organization’s assets pursuant to the Terrorism Financing Law.
The bill also excludes HSA’s Section 50 or Damages for Unproven Charge of Terrorism. Section 50 required the police agency or the Anti-Terrorism Council to pay any person acquitted of terrorism “damages in the amount of PHP 500,000 for every day that he or she was detained or deprived of liberty or arrested without a warrant as a result of the accusation.”
Pending NGO Legislative / Regulatory Initiatives
Several bills pending before both Houses of the 18th Congress may adversely affect civic freedoms, such as anti-terrorism laws, anti-disinformation bills, and social media regulations, as well as bills affecting public participation and free assembly.
- Anti-disinformation bills
Both Houses of Congress have proposed criminal sanctions for the publication of disinformation and misinformation. One bill—Senate Bill No. 9 or the proposed Anti-False Content Act—even empowers the Justice department’s Office of Cybercrime to order take downs and access blockades of website and online accounts without due process.
The proliferation of fake and spurious online identities also prompted the filing of bills on registration and regulation of social media accounts. For example, House Bill No. 188 proposes the creation of a regulatory board that is given powers to impose vague and overbroad limitations on social media use.
Also pending before the House of Representatives is a bill on the registration of SIM cards. The SIM card registration is presented as a means of curbing criminal activities, including those which endanger public order and national security. The bill allows disclosure of information either upon a duly issued court subpoena or upon written request from a law enforcement agency in relation to an ongoing criminal investigation.
- Public Participation and Public Assembly
In terms of enabling initiatives, at least three House bills seek the creation of people’s councils to strengthen CSO participation in local governance. The bills task local government units (LGUs) with establishing a registration system for CSOs.
Party-list representatives from Bayan Muna (Nation First) have proposed the passage of the “New Public Assembly Act”. The House bill seeks the repeal of Batas Pambansa Bilang (BP No.) 880, which requires organizers and leaders to acquire permits from the mayor to hold rallies in public places except in designated freedom parks. In the proposed bill, the organizer only needs to give notice to the mayor who has jurisdiction over the place of assembly. The bill is pending with the Committee on People’s Participation.
The Philippine Constitution recognizes the existence of non-governmental, community-based sectoral organizations, as well as people’s organizations. It defines people’s organizations in Section 16, Article XIII as “bona fide associations of citizens with demonstrated capacity to promote the public interest and with identifiable leadership, membership, and structure.”
CSOs formally register as non-stock corporations with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). The Revised Corporation Code (RCC) describes a nonstock corporation as “one where no part of its income is distributable as dividends to its members, trustees, or officers.”
The establishment of a non-stock corporation may be for “charitable, religious, educational, professional, cultural, fraternal, literary, scientific, social, civic service, or similar purposes, like trade, industry, agricultural and like chambers, or any combination thereof.” A non-stock corporation can be created for more than one purpose, but the secondary purpose should not contradict or change its nature as a non-stock corporation.
Aside from the SEC registration, CSOs must also obtain tax identification numbers from the Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR). They may also be required to seek business operation permits from the local government units (LGUs) where their main offices are located. Accreditation from the Philippine Council for NGO Certification (PCNC) is needed for tax and donation purposes.
Note that Republic Act No. 10693 governs registration of microfinance NGOs. The Act establishes the Microfinance NGO Regulatory Council to oversee the accreditation of such NGOs. In addition, those participating in the party-list system must register with the Commission on Elections (COMELEC), not with the SEC. A certificate of registration issued by the COMELEC will endow the organization with juridical personality.
The SEC recorded a total of 180,421 active non-stock corporations in the Philippines as of December 31, 2019. There was no breakdown as to the nature or type of these registered non-stock corporations. In June 2020, the Report of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights on the Situation of Human Rights in the Philippines stated that there are 60,000 registered NGOs in the Philippines.
Meanwhile, a 2002 study cited by the Asian Development Bank in 2013 estimates the number of CSOs at 249,000 to 497,000, 40 percent of which remain unregistered.
Public Benefit Status
Duly registered non-stock corporations may be eligible for income tax exemptions under Section 30 of the National Internal Revenue Code of 1997. Income refers to that “derived in furtherance of the purposes for which [the non-stock corporation] was organized under Section 30 of the NIRC.” Income derived from real properties and other for-profit activities remains taxable. Certificates of tax exemption may be secured from the Revenue Regional Offices.
The Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR) employs two tests in awarding an income tax exemption:
- The Organizational Test, proved by documents such as SEC registration, Articles of Incorporation and By-Laws; and
- The Operational Test, proved by the fact that the regular activities of the corporation are exclusively devoted to the accomplishment of the purposes specified in Section 30 of the NIRC. The corporation will fail this test if does not conduct activities in furtherance of the purpose for which it was organized, or if a substantial part of its operations constitutes “activities conducted for profit”.
Among those entities listed is a non-stock corporation or association organized and operated exclusively for religious, charitable, scientific, athletic, or cultural purposes, or for the rehabilitation of veterans, no part of its net income or asset belongs to or inures to the benefit of any member, organizer, officer or any specific person. The definitions of corporate purposes can be found in Revenue Memorandum Order No. 38-2019.
Another organization exempt from income tax is a civic league or organization not organized for profit but operated exclusively for the promotion of social welfare.
Meanwhile, tax deduction and exemption benefits may only apply when the donee institution is accredited by the BIR.
The Magna Carta for Disabled Persons provides a five-year realty tax holiday for non-governmental institutions establishing homes, residential communities, or retirement villages solely to suit the needs and requirements of persons with disabilities.
Barriers to Entry
Registration of civil society organizations is not mandatory in the Philippines. However, unregistered CSOs do not enjoy the taxation benefits awarded to duly registered organizations. They may not be qualified to receive donations or funding from government agencies. Also, some private sector entities prefer to donate to duly registered organizations to avail themselves of the tax deduction for charitable contributions.
The Revised Corporation Code provides that any person, partnership, association, or corporation may be an incorporator, defined as “those stockholders or members mentioned in the articles of incorporation as originally forming and composing the corporation and who are signatories thereof.”
There may be two but not more than 15 incorporators; all must be members of the nonstock corporation. Natural persons must be of legal age. The partnership, association or domestic corporation must be SEC-registered.
To be registered, a non-stock corporation applicant must submit its Articles of Incorporation and By-Laws before the SEC issues a Certificate of Incorporation. The prescribed content and form of the Articles are in Section 13 and 14 of the RCC.
Barriers to Operational Activity
Activities conducted by registered non-stock, non-profit organizations must be in furtherance of the purposes listed in their Articles of Incorporation and By-Laws.
Certain activities may require a permit, license, or accreditation from government agencies such as the Department of Agriculture, the Department of Education, the Department of Social Work and Development (DSWD), the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples, or the National Commission on Muslim Filipinos. For example, any person or organization desiring to solicit or receive contributions for charitable or public welfare purposes must acquire a permit from the DSWD as per Presidential Decree No. 1564. This rule was recently reiterated by the Department amidst the various donation drives conducted by CSOs and private individuals for those affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.
All corporations are required to annually submit their General Information Sheet and their Annual Financial Statement. In 2018, the SEC imposed additional reporting requirements for non-stock, non-profit organizations in an alleged effort to protect them from money laundering and terrorist financing abuse. The SEC has since revised the guidelines and released the latest version in December 2019. The SEC memorandum circular requires mandatory disclosures of sensitive information, which may expose vulnerable groups and individuals to risk. It was criticized by CSOs for being burdensome and unnecessary. Many CSOs viewed the memorandum as an attempt to deter funding for organizations critical of the government and those allegedly linked to the Communist Party of the Philippines.
Counter-terrorism Programs that Impede Operational Activity
In December 2018, President Duterte adopted a “whole-of-nation” approach to attain inclusive and sustainable peace, creating the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC) through Executive Order No. 70.
The whole-of-nation approach supposedly “addresses the root causes of insurgencies, internal disturbances and tensions, and other armed conflict and threats by prioritizing and harmonizing the delivery of basic services and social development packages by the government, facilitating societal inclusivity and ensuring active participation of all sectors of the society.” Despite these stated aims, NTF-ELCAC has harassed and vilified human rights defenders and non-governmental organizations that it claims to be linked with the Communist Party of the Philippines, New People’s Army, and National Democratic Front.
In November 2020, the Philippine Senate Committee on National Defense and Security, Peace, Unification and Reconciliation held an inquiry into red-tagging and red-baiting by NTF-ELCAC officials. During the Senate inquiry, it was confirmed that some party-list groups and non-governmental organizations are targeted by NTF-ELCAC for allegedly being “legal fronts” of the CPP. An official revealed that the task force was speaking with foreign donors about cutting off funding to these red-tagged organizations.
The inquiry came after a military official, who sits as ex-officio member of the NTF-ELCAC, warned some celebrities against participating in activities held by a women’s group and its youth arm. The military official claimed that the actress and other artists are being or will be recruited to the New People’s Army.
Protections Invoked by CSOs
The petition for a writ of amparo is a remedy available to any person whose right to life, liberty and security is violated or threatened by an unlawful act or omission of a public official or employee, or of a private individual or entity. Attempts to utilize the Supreme Court’s rules on the Writs of Amparo and Habeas Data for the protection of the life, liberty and security of human rights defenders and their organizations have been unsuccesful.
Calls for a review of the rules on the writ of amparo were renewed after the August 2020 killing of health worker-activist Zara Alvarez. Alvarez was a member of the human rights organization Karapatan, which sought the issuance of a writ of amparo for itself and its members, who have been subjected to harassment, intimidation, and threat.
Officers of Karapatan, women’s group Gabriela, and Rural Missionaries of the Philippines are also facing perjury charges filed by National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon based on alleged misrepresentations in their petitions for the issuance of a writ of amparo.
Barriers to Speech and Advocacy
The freedoms of expression and speech are enshrined in the 1987 Philippine Constitution’s Bill of Rights. Section 4 of Article III states that “No law shall be passed abridging the freedom of speech, of expression, or of the press, or the right of the people peaceably to assemble and petition the government for redress of grievances.” Similar provisions can be found in earlier Philippine Constitutions, such as the 1899 Malolos Constitution, 1935 Constitution, and 1973 Constitution.
Protections and Limitations of Law
The Civil Code of the Philippines affords remedies to those whose rights to speech and expression have been violated. Particularly, Article 32 provides that any person may be held liable for damages if he or she “directly or indirectly obstructs, defeats, violates or in any manner impedes or impairs” another’s freedom of speech.
On many occasions, the Supreme Court has reiterated that a free exchange of ideas is essential in a democracy such as the Philippines. But the exercise of the freedom of expression is not without restrictions. Permissible restrictions must pass the strict tests set by jurisprudence. One of these tests only allows a restriction if it is shown that the exercise of speech poses a “clear and present danger” to the society.
The Philippines’ 1930 Revised Penal Code (RPC) criminalizes defamatory expression such as libel and slander. Online libel is additionally punishable under the Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012. The same elements provided in the RPC are included, but cyber libel carries a higher penalty.
Provisions on inciting to rebellion, insurrection or sedition have been utilized against critics and dissenters, particularly those deemed by the government as “leftists”, “communists”, “legal fronts”, or “subversives.” Some government officials are seeking to revive the Anti-Subversion Law, which was repealed in 1992.
Regarding disinformation, the RPC penalizes publication of “any false news which may endanger the public order or cause damage to the interest or credit of the State” as well as those who, “by the same means, or by words, utterances or speeches,” shall encourage “disobedience to the law or to the constituted authorities or praise, justify or extol any act punished by law.”
The spread of false information was also punishable under the Bayanihan to Heal as One Act, enacted in support of the government’s strategy to combat the COVID-19 pandemic. Section 6(f) punished “individuals or groups creating, perpetrating, or spreading false information regarding the COVID-19 crisis on social media and other platforms, such information having no valid or beneficial effect on the population, and are clearly geared to promote chaos, panic, anarchy, fear or confusion.” However, the Act was in force only until June 2020 because the Philippine Congress did not act to extend it.
Additional bills seeking to stop disinformation and misinformation are currently pending before the 18th Congress. Most bills propose imprisonment and fines for persons allegedly disseminating “fake news” or “false content.” The definitions of false information are questionable, and if passed, may result in chilling free speech and imposing subsequent punishments for airing one’s opinion.
Access to Information
The meaningful exercise of free speech goes hand in hand with the right of the people to access information. Such right is recognized under Section 7, Article III of the 1987 Constitution. The Philippine Constitution further provides in Section 28, Article II for the adoption and implementation of “a policy of full disclosure of all its transactions involving public interest.” Both provisions state that the right to access official records may be subjected to restrictions or conditions set by law. However, the Philippine Congress has yet to pass a law on freedom of information.
In 2016, President Rodrigo Duterte issued Executive Order No. 2, s. 2016 which mandates the creation of People’s Freedom on Information (FOI) manuals in every government office under the Executive branch.
The Executive Order was supplemented by the 11-page Inventory of Exceptions to Executive Order No. 2, released on 24 November 2016. The exceptions were grouped into nine categories: (1) Information covered by Executive privilege; (2) Privileged information relating to national security, defense or international relations; (3) Information concerning law enforcement and protection of public and personal safety; (4) Information deemed confidential for the protection of the privacy of persons and certain individuals; (5) Information, documents or records known by reason of official capacity and are deemed confidential; (6) Prejudicial premature disclosure; (7) Records of proceedings or information from proceedings which, pursuant to law or relevant rules and regulations, are treated as confidential or privileged; (8) Matters considered confidential under banking and finance laws, and their amendatory laws; and (9) Other exceptions to the right to information under laws, jurisprudence rules and regulations. Note that an agency’s People’s FOI manual may contain their own list of exceptions, such as that of the Philippine National Police. Such an expansive list of exceptions will almost certainly restrict rather than broaden access to information of public matters.
Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation (SLAPPs)
In the Philippines, the rule on SLAPPs can be found in Administrative Matter No. 09-6-8-SC or the Rules of Procedure for Environmental Cases. SLAPPs can be raised as a defense by a person involved in the enforcement of environmental laws, the protection of the environment, or the assertion of environmental rights.
In 2018, the Supreme Court was asked to include a SLAPP provision in its A.M. No. 04-10-11-SC (Rule on Violence Against Women and Children). The Court dismissed the petition for certiorari as it was not the proper remedy to invoke the rule-making power of the Supreme Court. It also stated that “the concept of SLAPP is inapplicable to cases of domestic violence against women and children under R.A. No. 9262,” which is not among the laws mentioned in the rules of procedure for environmental cases.
Weaponization of Other Laws to Silence Unpopular Beliefs
No law specifically prohibits individuals and CSOs from criticizing the government or advocating unpopular political causes. The 1987 Constitution also expressly prohibits the detention of any person “solely by reason of his political beliefs and aspirations.”
However, government officials and other individuals have exploited existing laws and permissible restrictions to suppress criticism and unpopular political beliefs. For example, in February 2018, more than 600 persons, including then United Nations special rapporteur for Indigenous Peoples Concerns Vicky Tauli-Corpuz, were listed as members of the Communist Party of the Philippines in an application to proscribe the latter as a terrorist and outlawed organization under the Human Security Act. In January 2019, the Department of Justice filed an amended petition removing the names of 600 persons in the original list.
Criminal charges such as kidnapping, arson, and murder have also been filed against human rights defenders. The offices of peoples’ organizations have reportedly been placed under surveillance and/or subjected to unreasonable searches and seizures. It should be noted that the Armed Forces of the Philippines and the Philippine National Police created an Inter-Agency Committee on Legal Action (IACOLA) in October 2017 “to strengthen the intelligence gathering and cooperation, investigation, prosecution and monitoring of cases against threat groups.”
After March 2020, several Filipinos were arrested, detained, and/or charged for allegedly committing online libel and violating Section 6(f) of the Bayanihan Act for posting criticisms about the strategies and responses of both national and local governments on their social media accounts. However, as noted above, the Act was in force only until June 2020 because the Philippine Congress did not act to extend it.
Barriers to International Contact
Although the laws do not impose restrictions on access to the Internet, human rights networks and alternative media groups have reported digital security attacks in recent years.
A civil case for damages was filed against two Internet service providers by alternative media groups in September 2019 after it was discovered that cyber-attacks came through their infrastructure. The media groups later withdrew the case after defendant ISPs committed “to support free press” and improve “(e)ffective mechanisms to combat such attacks”.
Barriers to Resources
Funds received by non-stock, non-profit organizations are subject to the rules of the Anti-Money Laundering Act and the Terrorism Financing Prevention and Suppression Act, like other corporations and financial institutions. However, the intensified anti-terrorism campaign of the Duterte administration has led to abuse of such restrictions to target organizations accused of being communist fronts. For instance, the bank accounts of the Rural Missionaries of the Philippines have been frozen since December 2019 for alleged terrorist financing.
Government counter-terrorism agencies have engaged foreign governments such as the European Union in attempts to restrict or impede foreign funding for organizations allegedly linked to the Communist Party of the Philippines and New People’s Army. A delegation of government officials even traveled abroad for this purpose.
The President and his officials blocked loans and grants received by government and civil society from countries which voted or co-sponsored the 11 July 2019 Resolution of the United Nations Human Right Council ordering the UN High Commissioner on Human Rights to prepare a comprehensive report on the Philippine human rights situation. In an August 2019 Memorandum, the Executive Secretary directed all department secretaries and agency heads to “suspend negotiations for and signing of all loan and grant agreements” with these governments. However, the ban was lifted in March 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Philippine law also prohibits foreign corporations from giving donations to any political party or candidate or for purposes of partisan political activity. CSOs participating in the party-list elections are prohibited from accepting foreign funding. This is one of the grounds for denying or revoking registration/accreditation as a party-list group under Section 6(4) of R.A. No. 7941.
Non-stock, non-profit corporations and NGOs may engage in profitable activities incidental to their operations. The Revised Corporation Code (RCC) requires that “any profit which a nonstock corporation may obtain incidental to its operations shall, whenever necessary or proper, be used for the furtherance of the purpose or purposes for which the corporation was organized, subject to the provisions of this Title.”
Accredited CSOs may receive funding from the national and local government. They must be registered with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR), and the specific agencies/departments to receive government funds. A Philippine Council for NGO Certification (PCNC) certification is sometimes also required. NGOs receiving government funds may be subjected to a post-audit by the Commission on Audit.
Under Section 35 of the Local Government Code, local government units (LGUs) are allowed to enter into joint ventures with organizations for activities such as delivering basic services, capacity-building, and livelihood projects. An LGU may also extend financial assistance for “economic, socially-oriented, environmental, or cultural projects to be implemented within its territorial jurisdiction.”
Government funding of NGO-led projects was at the heart of the 2013 scam involving the Priority Development Assistance Fund of legislators, in which several Congressmen diverted their funds to non-existing and spurious NGOs managed by Janet Lim-Napoles.
Barriers to Assembly
The Constitutional guarantee on freedom of assembly can be found in the same provision as that of the freedoms of speech, of expression, or of the press. It reads, “No law shall be passed abridging… the right of the people peaceably to assemble and petition the government for redress of grievances.”
The Public Assembly Act of 1985 provides guidelines to “ensure the free exercise of such right without prejudice to the rights of others to life, liberty and equal protection of the law.” This Act explicitly prohibits any obstruction, impediment, disruption or denial of the right to peaceful assembly. It should be clear that this law only regulates the place and time of a public assembly.
Pickets, strikes and other concerted actions arising from labor disputes are governed by the Labor Code of the Philippines.
- Applicable Procedures and Requirements
A written permit from the local government unit is required for a public assembly held in a public place. A public place may be “any highway, boulevard, avenue, road, street, bridge or other thoroughfare, park, plaza, square, and/or any open space of public ownership where the people are allowed access.”
The written application should be filed with the office of the mayor which has jurisdiction over the place where the assembly will be held, at least five working days before the scheduled assembly. It should contain the following: names of the leaders or organizers; the purpose of such public assembly; the date, time and duration thereof, and the place or streets to be used for the intended activity; the probable number of persons participating, the transport and the public address systems to be used.
The duties and responsibilities of organizers under Section 8 must be incorporated in the application. Among these is to “take positive steps that demonstrators do not molest any person or do any act unduly interfering with the rights of other persons not participating in the public assembly.”
Failure to secure a prior written permit whenever necessary or the holding of a public assembly in a place other than what was approved may result in the imprisonment of any leader or organizer for one month and one day to six months.
Note that the law states that it is the duty of the mayor to grant or issue a permit. The only reason for non-issuance of a permit is if there is “clear and convincing evidence that the public assembly will create a clear and present danger to public order, public safety, public convenience, public morals or public health.” The applicant should be afforded due process prior to the denial of their application based on the alleged presence of “an imminent and grave danger of a substantive evil.”
The permit is deemed granted if the mayor or his representative fails to act on the application within two working days from its filing. The decision should be communicated to the applicant within 24 hours. Batas Pambansa Bilang (BP No.) 880 penalizes local government officials who arbitrarily and unjustifiably deny or modify a permit or refuse to accept or acknowledge receipt of the application.
No prior permit is required for assemblies held in a designated or established freedom park. But organizers must send written notice to the office of the mayor. In 2006, the Department of Interior and Local Government issued guidelines for the establishment or designation of freedom parks. The issuance came after the Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of Section 15 of the Public Assembly Act which mandates every city and municipality to “establish or designate at least one suitable freedom park or mall…which, as far as practicable, shall be centrally located within the poblacion where demonstrations and meetings may be held at any time without the need of any prior permit.”
Meanwhile, the consent of the owner or legal possessor is required when an assembly is held on private property. A public assembly held on the campus of a government-owned and operated educational institution is subject to the institution’s own rules and regulations.
The Public Assembly Act lists the application requirements for the issuance of a permit and the actions to be taken by the mayor or any official acting on his behalf.
- Legal Barriers to Freedom of Assembly
Nothing in the Public Assembly Act allows the government to regulate expressions or speeches uttered during an assembly. However, authorities have employed Revised Penal Code provisions (e.g. inciting to sedition and inciting to rebellion or insurrection) and other special laws to subsequently punish persons for their utterances.
The Revised Penal Code also punishes Illegal Assemblies. Under Article 146, the following assemblies are declared illegal:
- Any meeting attended by armed persons for the purpose of committing any of the crimes punishable under the Code, and
- Any meeting in which the audience, whether armed or not, is incited to the commission of the crime of treason, rebellion or insurrection, sedition or assault upon a person in authority or his agents.
Meanwhile, the Labor Code of the Philippines imposes restrictions on employees of specific sectors (such as those in Civil Service) holding pickets and strikes under the Labor Code. For example, those in the civil service can hold protests as long as they do not disrupt public services.
Note that the freedom of assembly has been severely restricted during the implementation of the COVID-19 pandemic. It became apparent as early as the proclamation of a state of public health emergency on 8 March 2020 that the government was treating the pandemic as a national security issue.Authorities have unreasonably and liberally applied provisions of the B.P. 880, theBayanihan Act and the Mandatory Reporting Act to crackdown on dissent during the implementation of the pandemic response. Those who try to assert their constitutional rights to expression and assembly are also met with charges for Resistance and Disobedience to A Person in Authority under Article 151 of the Revised Penal Code.
For example, the mere carrying of placards calling for better government responses to the health crisis has been met with a forceful law enforcement response. Some individuals who held COVID-19 relief operations and carried such placards were arrested and detained by law enforcement, and are facing criminal charges before the prosecution office or the courts.
Section 6(h) of the Bayanihan Act was also cited in complaints filed against groups who allegedly held illegal assemblies during COVID-19 pandemic in 2020. This section stated that “impeding access to roads, streets and bridges; putting-up prohibited encroachments or obstacles; and maintenance of illegal constructions in public places that have been ordered to be removed.” However, the Act lasted only until from March to June 2020 because the Philippine Congress did not act to extend it.
Section 9(e) of the Mandatory Reporting of Notifiable Diseases and Health Events of Public Health Concern Act has been cited in reference to individuals or groups allegedly violating the rules on “social distancing” and mass gatherings. The said provision refers to “non-cooperation of the person or entities identified as having the notifiable disease, or affected by the health events of public concern.” It would appear that authorities deem the failure to observe social distancing as “non-cooperation.”
Law enforcement should not interfere with the conduct of a public assembly. Batas Pambansa Bilang (BP No.) 880 provides guidelines that law enforcement agencies shall observe in Section 10, such as being in uniform and the non-use of firearms.
The dispersal of public assemblies must comply with the parameters set in Sections 11 (public assembly with permit) and 12 (public assembly without permit) of the Public Assembly Act. Section 13 expressly states that participants are not criminally liable for the lack of a permit. Only organizers and leaders are liable and can be punished “by imprisonment of one month and one day to six months.”
The Public Assembly Act requires that a law enforcement contingent should be at least 100 meters away from the place of assembly. They are also required to observe “maximum tolerance” or “the highest degree of restraint that the military, police and other peacekeeping authorities shall observe during a public assembly or in the dispersal of the same.” The Act also penalizes law enforcement officers who unnecessarily use firearms in dispersing any public assembly.
However, law enforcement has used unnecessary force and inhumane methods to stop rallies and peoples’ assemblies in several instances. In 2005, the Philippine National Police violently dispersed rallies against then President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. The police justified the use of force as being in consonance with the Calibrated Preemptive Response policy set by the executive (Malacañang). Several groups later questioned the legality of the Calibrated Preemptive Response policy before the Supreme Court. In April 2006, the Supreme Court declared the policy as null and void in Bayan v. Ermita.
Meanwhile, any person who carries a deadly or offensive weapon or device or maliciously burns any object in the streets or thoroughfares within one hundred (100) meters from a public assembly or on the occasion thereof will be penalized.
Barriers to Public Participation
The people’s right to effective and reasonable participation is recognized in Section 16, Article XIII of the 1987 Constitution. Article XIII reads: “The right of the people and their organizations to effective and reasonable participation at all levels of social, political, and economic decision-making shall not be abridged. The State shall, by law,facilitate the establishment of adequate consultation mechanisms.”
This mandate has been operationalized in several national laws, such as the Local Government Code of 1991 and the Indigenous Peoples’ Rights Act (IPRA). Most government agencies and departments have their own Citizen’s Charter, which provides mechanisms for feedbacks and complaints.
The laws mandate periodic and prior consultations with NGOs and affected communities in government development projects. For example, the Local Government Code prohibits the implementation of any project unless consultations are conducted with NGOs, people’s organizations, and other concerned sectors. IPRA requires that the free and prior informed consent of Indigenous Cultural Communities and Indigenous Peoples must be secured in advance of any exploration or development of ancestral lands and domains.
Laws allow collaboration between government agencies and NGOs. In fact, select government agencies and institutions are required to have civil society organization representatives. For example, the Local Government Code mandates that local development councils must include two NGO representatives.
The Magna Carta of Women also requires government collaboration with media-related NGOs in the formulation of policies and programs for non-discriminatory and non-derogatory portrayal of women in the media.
The Social Reform and Poverty Alleviation Act mandates engagement with NGOs who “focus on the upliftment of the basic or disadvantaged sectors of society by providing advocacy, training, community organizing, research, access to resources, and other similar activities.” An NGO representative sits as a member of the National Anti-Poverty Commission.
Unfortunately, however, these public participation mechanisms have reportedly been exploited and mismanaged. Indigenous peoples, for instance, claimed that the IPRA provision on free and prior informed consent has not been properly observed. In 2019, the indigenous peoples living in the area near the Kaliwa Dam alleged that the government’s Metropolitan Waterworks and Sewerages System and even the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples manipulated the process by offering monetary compensation in exchange for their consent.
UN Universal Periodic Review Reports
|Session 27 – May 2017|
Reports of UN Special Rapporteurs
Council on Foundations Country Notes
U.S. State Department
|2019 Human Rights Report: Philippines|
Fragile States Index Reports
|Foreign Policy Fragile States Index|
IMF Country Reports
|Philippines: Special Issues (February 6, 2020)|
International Commission of Jurists
International Center for Not-for-Profit Law Online Library
While we aim to maintain information that is as current as possible, we realize that situations can rapidly change. If you are aware of any additional information or inaccuracies on this page, please keep us informed; write to ICNL at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Rights Defenders, Journalists Challenge Anti-Terrorism Act (July 2020)
A group of veteran journalists, lawmakers, human rights defenders and Constitution framers have filed a petition against the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020 at the Supreme Court, the latest to challenge the measure that they described as a “clear and imminent danger to free speech.” The petition, first filed through email on Wednesday, also sought a plea for a temporary restraining order to stop the implementation of the law.
The foregoing information was collected by ICNL’s CFM partner in the Philippines.