Philippines - Rule of Law Program (Past Work)

Extrajudicial killings and forced disappearances

The ABA Rule of Law Initiative (ABA ROLI) has worked with local partners to seek access to justice for vulnerable populations in the Philippines, which struggles with extrajudicial killings and politically motivated violence. To highlight these issues and solicit ideas on how to address them, ABA ROLI—in cooperation with the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, the University of the Philippines Foundation for Integrative Development Studies, the Integrated Bar of the Philippines, the Alternative Law Group, and Centerlaw—hosted regional extrajudicial killings summits in Zamboanga, General Santos and Naga cities in October 2009. Participants included prosecutors, academics, public attorneys, vetted army and police officials, representatives of civil rights organizations and journalist groups, and members of the Commission on Human Rights. The forum helped to coordinate efforts and to enhance stakeholders’ capacity to investigate and prosecute extrajudicial killings, enforced disappearances and torture. A total of 1,000 forensics manuals were distributed to legal professionals, and renowned international experts led discussions focused on increasing the use of physical evidence in the prosecution of human rights cases. At the beginning of the program, ABA ROLI and an international expert on forensics with extensive experience in developing nations conducted a three-day training for senior prosecutors. The training addressed crime scene investigation, using both classroom study and field investigations that simulate murder scenes and shallow gravesites for practical application.

Supporting legislative reform

Our anti-corruption program has supported the Office of the Ombudsman’s legislative push for more effective anti-corruption enforcement. In 2010, ABA ROLI collaborated with local legal experts and a working group of high-level officials from the Ombudsman’s Office to draft legislation that would assist the country to comply with its international obligations under the United Nations Convention against Corruption. Anchored on evidence-based research and analysis, the draft legislation addresses corruption by improving evidence collection mechanisms, supporting effective asset recovery and strengthening the Office of the Ombudsman’s institutional capacity. The office presented the draft legislations to congress for consideration. In 2010, the proposed legislation was filed in both the Philippines Senate and the House of Representatives and was referred to the appropriate standing committee for hearing and consultation with key stakeholders during the 15th Congress.

Encouraging investigative reporting

Through a sub-grant to the Institute for War and Peace Reporting, ABA ROLI and the U.S. Agency for International Development supported the Philippine Public Transparency Reporting Project, which maintains an accessible, user-friendly and educational website—Pera Natin ‘To! (It’s Our Money!). The website ( serves as a forum for local journalists, civil society organizations and the public to discuss, investigate and expose corruption. To encourage government transparency and accountability, the website disseminates timely and substantive information, including on governance, government anti-corruption efforts and governmental agencies’ compliance with anti-corruption laws. The project’s confidential e-mail hotline promotes increased public participation in investigating and reporting corruption. The project trained more than 200 journalists on public finance reporting, and on domestic and international corruption laws. The journalists also received a handbook explaining relevant anti-corruption and public information laws and reporting techniques. Furthermore, the project hosted public outreach events to report its findings and to promote stronger collaboration among media, civil society and local authorities. It also established joint media and transparency reporting groups in key locations around the country to develop suitable responses to corruption and to promote cooperation among local media and civil society.

Anti-Human Trafficking

From 2011 to 2012, the ABA Rule of Law Initiative (ABA ROLI), working with local partners, began to implement programs to combat human trafficking in the Philippines. ABA ROLI worked with the Inter-Agency Council Against Trafficking (IACAT), the Department of Justice, the Office of the Solicitor General, and the Anti-Money Laundering Council to promote the use of civil remedies by both the justice sector and civil society to address sex - and labor - trafficking. While civil remedies, such as asset freezing, forfeiture and enforcement of monetary damages are easier to obtain than criminal penalties, they also help provide victims with compensation and can be sought with the help of private lawyers. ABA ROLI promoted the use of the Anti-Money Laundering Act, which empowers the government to freeze assets deemed related to criminal activities. In tandem with the University of the Philippines College of Law Development Foundation and in collaboration with IACAT, ABA ROLI developed a handbook containing related laws and strategies to pursue civil remedies. ABA ROLI also held a series of trainings for private lawyers and judges to increase awareness and use of these tools.

ABA ROLI and IACAT collaborated in expanding the legal system’s anti-human trafficking arsenal to increase deterrence, provide tangible redress and compensation to victims and increase the likelihood that human trafficking perpetrators will ultimately be criminally convicted.

Supporting small claims courts

Following a 2007–2010 ABA ROLI-Philippine Supreme Court collaboration on a successful pilot project involving 44 small claims courts, the Supreme Court institutionalized the implementation of the Rule of Procedure for Small Claims Cases. On March 18, 2010, small claims courts were established in all of the country’s 1,137 first-level courts. To support the implementation, ABA ROLI and the Supreme Court trained more than 3,000 judges and court personnel, and distributed a Small Claims Handbook containing rules of procedure and administrative guidelines. ABA ROLI also coordinated video-supported public outreach campaigns on the small claims courts.

In 2011, ABA ROLI and the Supreme Court launched the small claims case monitoring system (SC2MS), a computer system used to track small claims cases, in all 1,137 trial courts across the nation. The first nationwide automation of the trial courts enables courts to immediately connect with the central administrative office in Manila for updates and circulars, and to generate and send automatic reports to the Supreme Court.

The small claims courts have enabled an expedited, fair and affordable resolution of everyday disputes by using template pleadings and court orders, encouraging judicially supervised settlement negotiations and streamlining procedures. The courts have also helped expand access to justice and decongest the country’s overloaded courts.

Implementing case management information systems

In 2010, building on its previous court automation initiative, ABA ROLI reconfigured the case management information system (CMIS) program in the Sandiganbayan (anti-graft courts), the Court of Tax Appeals and the Court of Appeals to improve the software’s functionality, operability and efficiency. The enhancements enabled justices and court personnel monitor and track status of their cases. The CMIS is fully operational in each of these appellate and collegial courts, and ABA ROLI has trained judges and court personnel on its use.

Reducing court delays

ABA ROLI and key judicial sector stakeholders have developed revised court rules for pilot implementation in Quezon City, the nation’s largest trial court system. The rules introduce modern litigation streamlining techniques to reduce the number of trial delays, moderate inessential and costly motion practice, remove backlogs and improve the overall efficacy of the trial courts.

To implement the rules, ABA ROLI developed a framework to build a database of the caseload of Quezon City trial courts to enable court administrators to monitor litigation and identify impediments. ABA ROLI has also worked with the Supreme Court to design an auditing program that identifies obstacles to speedy case resolution in those courts with large numbers of unresolved cases. Court auditors have conducted diagnostic case management reviews in 17 selected trial courts.

Promoting consistent and efficient case adjudication

ABA ROLI worked with partners, including the Philippines Judicial Academy (PHILJA), to produce a manual—the Revised Trial Court Benchbook—for judges and lawyers. A total of 2,500 copies of the two-volume manual, which helps ensure consistency in decision-making and covers different case types, were printed in 2011 and distributed across the country. ABA ROLI assisted PHILJA in providing nationwide trainings to trial court judges on its use. Additionally, ABA ROLI and PHILJA have developed sentencing guidelines, which provide a user-friendly mechanism to calculate sentences for the most commonly charged criminal offenses.

Promoting arbitration to resolve commercial disputes

Arbitration has emerged as an important tool in resolving commercial disputes around the globe. But arbitration has been less useful in the Philippines, as courts often second-guess arbitration clauses, requiring parties to spend time and resources re-litigating disputes that were already settled in arbitration. ABA ROLI assisted the Office for Alternative Dispute Resolution (OADR) in developing standards to train and certify arbitrators. In collaboration with the Philippine Dispute Resolution Center and the OADR, ABA ROLI developed a training curriculum for lawyers on the Philippine Arbitration Law, its implementing rules and the accompanying Supreme Court circular. To encourage speedier resolution of commercial disputes, the curriculum promotes the sanctity of contracts, respect by the courts for local and international arbitral proceedings and broad use of alternative dispute resolution mechanisms in business transactions.

Building the capacity of special commercial courts

Created in 2001, the special commercial courts (SCCs) handle intellectual property and bankruptcy cases and matters formerly under the jurisdiction of the Securities and Exchange Commission. However, these courts have had difficulty applying general business-related laws and resolving urgent matters—such as the issuance of temporary restraining orders—in a timely manner. To address these problems, ABA ROLI has coordinated with the judiciary to assess the courts’ procedures, design capacity building activities and, where necessary, develop practice guidelines. In 2012, ABA ROLI worked with PHILJA in training almost all of the country’s SCC judges on the Financial Rehabilitation and Insolvency Act and provided assistance in the development of a manual for judges. Recognizing the impact of these capacity building initiatives, the Intellectual Property Office of the Philippines leveraged its resources and trained SCC judges on intellectual property rules.

Developing codes of professional conduct

In 2010, ABA ROLI assisted the Philippines Department of Justice to develop a code of professional ethics for prosecutors by incorporating international perspective to existing provisions in the code.In 2011, ABA ROLI worked on a similar code for the Public Attorney’s Office (PAO), whose lawyers serve as public defenders to the indigent. The code combines three booklets developed by ABA ROLI and PAO in 2010—the Code of Conduct for Public Attorneys and Employees of the Public Attorney's Office, the PAO Operations Manual and Consolidated PAO's Legal Forms—with international case examples as well as PAO disciplinary cases. A series of nationwide trainings on the codes of conduct for prosecutors and public attorneys has also been provided.

Operationalizing the Office for Competition

In 2011, President Aquino issued an executive order establishing an Office for Competition within the Department of Justice. The executive order represents a significant landmark in the implementation of antitrust rules in the Philippines. To be effective, the office needs well organized and trained staff and resources for investigating and prosecuting anti-competitive conduct. ABA ROLI helped the office develop an organizational structure, facilitating a study of existing laws and procedures and working on proposed guidelines for enforcing existing competition laws.

Building the Internal Affairs Unit’s capacity

ABA ROLI worked with the Philippine Department of Justice to build the capacity of its Internal Affairs Unit (IAU), which enforces the code of conduct for prosecutors and support staff. ABA ROLI helped to develop an operations manual, guiding the investigation of allegations of prosecutorial misconduct. To support the manual’s implementation, ABA ROLI also facilitated an orientation seminar to familiarize members of the IAU on the specific guidelines set for the conduct of investigation Additionally, ABA ROLI designed a computerized system to aid the unit in monitoring and tracking investigations of prosecutorial misconduct.

Supporting national elections

ABA ROLI, in partnership with the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), the International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES) and Libertás—a nonpartisan association of Filipino fair-election advocates—helped the Philippine Supreme Court prepare for potential disputes in the lead up to the first fully-automated national elections of May 2010. In February of that year, ABA ROLI and IFES held a series of conferences on dispute resolution in automated elections for judges, election lawyers and civil society leaders, where Minnesota Supreme Court Justice Paul Anderson and veteran election lawyer Jack Young shared lessons they learned from high-profile, automated election litigation. On April 27, 2010, the Philippine Supreme Court published the 2010 Rules of Procedure in Election Contests to guide regional trial courts in resolving election disputes. Prior to election day, more than 600 judges from the Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao regions were trained on the new rules, and about 1,000 digital reference materials—containing relevant election laws, court issuances and training lectures—were distributed.

Assisting lower courts in Mindanao

Stunted by local poverty and poor governance, the first-level courts in the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao lack even furnishings as basic as writing desks and evidence lockers. ABA ROLI and USAID conducted a needs assessment, and then equipped these courts with adequate furnishings to enable them to safely and systematically store case files and evidence, including firearms. ABA ROLI believes furnishing the courts, coupled with staff training, has allowed a more efficient administration of cases, which in turn has improved public perception of the judiciary.

Strengthening judicial integrity

In 2009, the Philippine Supreme Court completed its integrity development review to assess corruption vulnerabilities in its administrative systems through a systematic identification of areas and practices that undermine the judiciary’s institutional performance and integrity.

With support from ABA ROLI and USAID, the review was extended to appellate and trial courts nationwide. Workshops were conducted to familiarize appellate court justices and more than 400 local trial court judges and officers with the review process, and to solicit their input. Reforms included the introduction of whistle-blower protection and an internal financial audits mechanism, as well as the establishment of an independent, centralized office to resolve complaints against judicial personnel in a more timely and transparent manner. In May 2010, the Court Administrator presented the judicial integrity development plan before the Chief Justice and key officers of the court for consideration.

Continuing legal education

To improve regulation and oversight of, and compliance with, the Philippine Supreme Court’s mandatory continuing legal education (MCLE) program, the ABA Rule of Law Initiative (ABA ROLI) assisted the MCLE Office in conducting a survey to assess the effectiveness of the program and to identify improvement needs. In August 2006, ABA ROLI organized two trainings—a training of trainers and an alternative technologies training—for CLE providers. ABA ROLI also partnered with the Philippine Bar Association to deliver an interactive 36-hour training program in August and September 2006. Both trainings were replicated during the second quarter of 2007.

Judicial education

To facilitate the sharing of common concerns and the exchange of ideas on how to meet professional challenges, ABA ROLI sponsored a series of judge-to-judge dialogues in the Philippines. Under this program, judges from the U.S. and other countries met with judges from the Philippine supreme, appellate and trial courts to discuss a variety of issues. ABA ROLI also held a series of local judge-to-judge dialogues, including on preventing case delays in Manila, Laoag, Boracay and Zamboanga cities.

Development of legal ethics teaching module

ABA ROLI partnered with the University of the Philippines Law School to develop a module for an interactive ethics course. The process involved initial training on the use of interactive teaching techniques, the development and pilot testing of the course during the second semester of 2005–2006 school year, and finally the compilation of the course reading materials. The course materials were compiled into a module for use by Filipino law schools and professors. The module contains materials for teaching ethics in five substantive areas: family law, labor law, remedial law, corporation and securities law, and alternative dispute resolution. The module was launched in February 2007 in partnership with the Philippine Association of Law Schools (PALS) and the University of the Philippines (UP) Law School. Deans, law professors and MCLE providers from around the country attended the event. Some of the UP professors shared with their colleagues their experience in developing the module, teaching the course and the use of interactive teaching methodologies.  Copies of the module were distributed widely, including to all member schools of PALS.

Developing anti-corruption curricula

In partnership with the law school at the Ateneo de Manila University, ABA ROLI developed a curriculum for an anti-corruption course, which was then used to create a module to be used at other law schools. Despite several measures to combat corruption in the Philippines, evidence suggested that it continued to rise. In response, the course employed a multi-disciplinary approach to explain why existing legal and policy frameworks fail to address corruption.

Philippine Women Judges Association

ABA ROLI assisted the Philippine Women Judges Association (PWJA) by sponsoring its seminar and annual meeting. The Honorable Jiin-Fang Lin, chief judge of the Taiwan District Court in Taipei, and Joan Winship, executive director of International Association of Women Judges, spoke on building the capacity of women in the judiciary. Winship additionally led a capacity-building workshop for PWJA officers and board members. ABA ROLI also helped PWJA conduct a strategic planning workshop, which led to the creation of a know-your-rights brochure on gender issues, including the newly enacted juvenile justice law, domestic violence law and anti-human trafficking law. The brochure was distributed throughout the country. Moreover, ABA ROLI collaborated with non-governmental organizations, including local PWJA and Integrated Bar of the Philippines chapters, to host a series of awareness-raising roundtable discussions, which encouraged community leaders to pursue community-coordinated activities to protect women and children in their respective province and region.

Supporting bar associations

In October 2006, The ABA Rule of Law Initiative (ABA ROLI) supported the first bar leadership roundtable in cooperation with the Integrated Bar of the Philippines and the Philippines Bar Association. Former ABA ROLI Country Director in the Philippines Teresa Cannady served as moderator, while former International Bar Association President Dianna Kempe presented recommendations on how bar associations can be leaders in the rule of law.

The main objective of this activity was to bring these two associations together to evaluate and assess their activities as community leaders and as advocates for the rule of law. The theme was “going beyond” ways in which bar associations traditionally serve their members as a trade association, to being protectors of the public and promoters of the rule of law. The three main points included the importance of bar leadership, lawyers rendering service to the profession and to the public, and going beyond ethics rules to show respect for colleagues and the courts. Translating these concepts into reality can result in providing free legal aid, supporting public legal education and taking a public stand as advocates for the rule of law.