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map courtesy CIA World Factbook; click for enlargement Constitution, Government & Legislation

The Philippines has a representative democracy modeled on the U.S. system. The 1987 constitution, adopted during the Aquino administration, reestablished a presidential system of government with a bicameral legislature and an independent judiciary. The president is limited to one 6-year term. Provision also was made in the constitution for autonomous regions in Muslim areas of Mindanao and in the Cordillera region of northern Luzon.

The President, head of the Executive branch, the House of Representatives and the Senate, components of the Legislative branch, are elected by the populous. The Legislature or Congress is bicameral comprised of 24 Senators and 250 Members of the House of Representatives. Historically, there are three periods (1898 - 1899, 1934 -1941 and 1971-1986) during which the Philippine Congress was not bicameral but unicameral. The present Congress contains the largest membership and the most broad power designation by the Constitution in Philippine history.

The Philippine Senate is elected at large. 13 of the current 24 senators were elected in May 2001. Of a possible 250 members of the House of Representatives, 206 are elected from the single-member districts. The remainder of the House seats are designated for sectoral representatives elected at large through a complex "party list" system.

On January 17, 2001, then-President Joseph Estrada's impeachment trial in the Senate was preempted after a majority of senators voted to block the introduction of certain items of evidence. Large, peaceful demonstrations in the capital over the next 3 days ended on January 20, when Estrada resigned and Vice President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo was sworn in as President.

Source: U.S. Department of State

Courts & Judgments

The Filipino national court system consists of four levels: Local and regional trial courts; a national Court of Appeals divided into 17 divisions; a 15-member Supreme Court; and an informal local system for arbitrating or mediating certain disputes outside the formal court system. The Sandiganbayan, the Government's anticorruption court, hears criminal cases brought against senior officials. A Shari'a (Islamic law) court system, with jurisdiction over domestic and contractual relations among Muslim citizens, operates in some Mindanao provinces.

The Judiciary is independent from the Executive and Legislative branches. The Supreme Court is comprised of a Chief Justice and fourteen Associate Justices. The Court may sit en banc or, in its discretion, in panels of three, five or seven. The members of the Supreme Court and the lower courts are selected by the President from a list of nominees submitted by Philippine Judicial and Bar Council; confirmation by the legislature of the President's Judicial appointments is not required. Only natural-born citizens of the Philippines may hold a position on the Supreme Court or any lower court. Members of the Judiciary may hold office, during good behavior, only until the age of 70.

Source: U.S. Department of State

Human Rights

The Filipino Government generally respected the human rights of citizens in 2001; however, there were serious problems in some areas. Members of the security services were responsible for extrajudicial killings, disappearances, torture, and arbitrary arrest and detention; there were allegations by human rights groups that these problems worsened as the Government sought to intensify its campaign against the terrorist Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG). Other physical abuse of suspects and detainees and police corruption remain problems. The Government's Commission on Human Rights (CHR), established under the 1987 Constitution, again described the PNP as the worst abuser of human rights, although complaints against the police decreased significantly compared with 2000. Police leaders at times appeared to sanction extrajudicial killings and brutality as expedient means of fighting crime. The Government increased its efforts to stop military and police abuses; and abuses decreased somewhat. The PNP took steps to improve respect for human rights within police ranks, and strengthened internal disciplinary measures. Prison conditions are harsh. Although the Government made some efforts, it generally was ineffective in reforming law enforcement and legal institutions. Judges and prosecutors are poorly paid, overburdened, remain susceptible to corruption and the influence of the wealthy and powerful, and often failed to provide due process and equal justice. The courts were hindered by backlogs, limited resources, and a shortage of judges. Long delays in trials were common. The authorities failed to prosecute many persons who broke the law, and some persons committed abuses with impunity. The Government in some cases supported the forcible displacement of squatters from their illegal urban dwellings to make way for industrial and real estate development projects, often leading to disputes and human rights complaints; however, the practice decreased notably beginning in February when the Government suspended demolitions in poor urban areas.

The estimated 7.4 million citizens living abroad remain effectively disenfranchised because the Government has not enacted a system of absentee voting, as required by the Constitution. Some local military and police forces harassed human rights activists. The CHR, whose primary mission is to investigate complaints of human rights violations, also provides human rights training to the police, the military, other government officials, and the general public. Approximately one-third of the country's 42,000 "barangays" (neighborhoods) have Human Rights Action Centers, which coordinate with CHR regional offices. However, staffing and funding remained inadequate, and monitoring and investigation of human rights complaints remained ineffective.

Violence and discrimination against women and abuse of children continued to be serious problems. Discrimination against indigenous people and Muslims persists. The law provides for worker rights, but implementation and enforcement are weak. Child labor continues to be a problem, although the Government has increased efforts to address it. There were some reports of forced and indentured labor in the informal sector, and the use of underage workers in domestic servitude continued. Child prostitution continued to be a problem. Trafficking in women and children was a serious problem.

Source: U.S. Department of State

Legal Profession

Law Schools