Addressing Police Abuse Toward LGBTI People in the Philippines

While “To serve and protect” society is the motto of the Philippine National Police, many lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) persons are excluded from this commitment, and instead face mistreatment and harassment at the hands of authorities. Police misconduct is enabled by negative social attitudes towards the LGBT community and the lack of adequate training and sensitization of the police force on issues related to sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression (SOGIE).

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Executive Summary

Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) communities in the Philippines face violence, abuse, and discrimination from the police and are excluded from police assistance and protection when they are victims of crime. Police abuse, violence, and discrimination stem from stigma, negative stereotypes and long-held biases against LGBTI people in Philippines society. Aside from denying police assistance and protection to LGBTI persons, police also profile masculine gay men, effeminate gay men, and transgender women as sex workers while masculine looking or butch lesbians are automatically accused as the perpetrator when there are cases of domestic violence reported by lesbian partners.

The absence of information regarding sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression (SOGIE) issues and concerns of LGBTI persons in the Philippines National Police (PNP) Operational Procedures Handbook results in poor and erroneous implementation of police operational procedures. Police officers are left to use their personal judgment and oftentimes fail to use appropriate, sensitized and professional method when conducting body searches and frisking, making arrests, carrying out custodial investigation, and detaining LGBTI persons. For instance, pat-down searches of transgender persons are performed by police officers of the opposite gender. The same policy is applied when transgender persons are detained—transgender women are detained in male cells and transgender men in female cells without consideration for their safety and security. LGBTI persons who have not disclosed their SOGIE to family members, school authorities or classmates, employers or co-workers are additionally vulnerable to police extortion. Police use the threat of public exposure, including to the media to extort confessions and demand bribes from LGBTI persons who are held for questioning.

While there are no laws that criminalize LGBTI persons in the Philippines, neutral laws such as anti-kidnapping, grave scandal, and anti-trafficking laws are used disproportionately to harass, extort, and physically, verbally, and sexually abuse LGBTI persons and communities. The absence of a gender recognition law and comprehensive anti-discrimination law makes it difficult to hold police accountable for the mishandling and mistreatment of LGBTI persons.

While violations of LGBTI persons by police officers have been reported in the media, very few cases involving police misconduct have been investigated and those that are investigated have yet to be resolved.

The impact of police discrimination, harassment, violence and abuse of LGBTI persons not only increase the mistrust of LGBTI persons for police, but also discourage them from reporting crimes, filing complaints, and seeking police assistance and protection. Without recourse to seek intervention and protection, the human rights abuses and violations of LGBTI persons will continue unchecked and perpetrators will continue victimizing LGBTI persons.

From 2013 to 2016, OutRight Action International, in partnership with the PNP Human Rights Affairs Office provided learning opportunities for police officers about LGBTI concerns. The training module produced by OutRight on gender, sexuality and human rights for the police has formally been incorporated into the PNP Human Rights refresher seminar for PNP personnel as part of the promotion requirement for police officers of different ranks and from different operational units.

OutRight’s workshops helped police officers challenge the negative stereotypes and personal beliefs about LGBTI persons that affect how police officers respond to and treat LGBTI persons. Police officers were also provided with techniques to implement proper police operational procedures that are sensitive, respectful and appropriate when conducting body searches, receiving complaints, making arrests, during custodial investigation, and when detaining LGBTI persons.

While the partnership with the PNP Human Rights Affairs Office has contributed some significant changes, there is need for a comprehensive, sustained, permanent and institutionalized inclusion of SOGIE in law enforcement to ensure lasting positive attitudinal and behavioral change throughout the institution. 

Recommendations

The Philippines government should enact national laws that will prevent discrimination against persons based on sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression, particularly a gender recognition law and a comprehensive anti-discrimination law. The government must ensure inclusion of LGBTI persons in all its programs and services.

The PNP needs to amend the Police Operation Procedure handbook to include specific procedures for sensitive and appropriate handling of LGBTI persons, particularly during body searches and detention; expand the mandate of the Women and Children’s Desk of the PNP to include transgender women; formally implement protocols for SOGIE-inclusive police community relations; and incorporate SOGIE  as one of the topics in the continuing education program required for the license renewal of security agencies and personnel under the PNP.

The Bureau of Jail Management and Penology should amend its 2015 Comprehensive Operations Manual to include specific and proper procedures for incarceration of transgender persons and treatment of LGBTI inmates.

The Philippine Public Safety College (PPSC) should formalize directives for incorporating SOGIE into the curriculum used by the National Police College (NPC), Philippines National Police Academy (PNPA), National Police Training Institute (NPTI), National Fire Training Institute (NFTI), National Jail Management and Penology Training Institute (NJMPTI), and the National Forensic Science Training Institute (NFSTI).

LGBTI communities need to be informed about their rights regarding police procedures in the Philippines and capacitated to demand non-discriminatory services and fair and respectful treatment from police officers and other law enforcement agencies.


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