The State Department is committed to ensuring fair and humane treatment for U.S. citizens imprisoned overseas. We assist incarcerated citizens and their families within the limits of our authority, in accordance with international, U.S., and Philippine laws. We monitor conditions in foreign prisons and protest allegations of abuse against U.S. citizen prisoners. We work with prison officials to seek treatment consistent with internationally recognized standards of human rights and due process.
This information is provided for U.S. citizens who have been arrested or are facing arrest and imprisonment in the Philippines. Please note, a U.S. Embassy duty officer is always available for emergency assistance. During normal working hours the U.S. Embassy’s American Citizen Services section is available to assist in all matters relating to the arrest of a U.S. citizen. After hours the U.S. Embassy duty officer can be reached at +63 (02) 5301-2000.
The Philippines is a party to the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations, a multilateral treaty which provides that consular officers and their nationals may communicate with and have access to each other. An Embassy officer will visit a U.S. citizen incarcerated in the Philippines, to ensure that he/she is receiving appropriate treatment, to provide a list of local attorneys, and to provide information on the Philippine judicial system.
The Embassy encourages U.S. citizens facing arrest to engage the services of a local attorney. An attorney entitled to practice in the courts in the Philippines has the right to confer privately with the person arrested, in the jail or in any other place of custody, at any time of the day or, in urgent cases, at night. The U.S. citizen may wish to choose an attorney from among those on the list of local attorneys (PDF 176 KB) the Embassy has prepared, or hire any other attorney. The Embassy encourages the U.S. citizen to establish clear-cut terms as to fees and the extent of legal services required.
The Embassy does not have staff attorneys to protect the legal interests of U.S. citizens abroad. An individual must be prepared to pay an attorney from personal funds. If an accused individual cannot afford the services of a private attorney, the court will appoint one for him/her, but in practice, many of the court-appointed counsels do not devote as much time and effort in pursuing their cases as those whose clients are paying the fees charged. The Embassy recommends that an accused U.S. citizen hire a competent, private attorney if possible.
Local Procedures and Conditions
The Arrest Report
A U.S. Embassy officer will make every effort to contact an arrested U.S. citizen promptly to assess his/her personal welfare. The officer will also obtain data for the arrest report (i.e., passport information, next-of-kin, details of your arrest, etc.). The officer will ask the U.S. citizen to sign a release under the provisions of the Privacy Act of 1974 to communicate his/her wish regarding release of information to the U.S. citizen’s family, friends, members of Congress or journalists. Under the Privacy Act, the Department of State is prohibited from releasing information without the individual’s written consent.
Arrest; Investigation; Trial; Appeal; Imprisonment
Experience has shown that arrests and trials in the Philippines are often unpredictable. Significant deviations from prescribed procedures do occur, arrestees are often not given clear information about procedures and charges, and allegations of corruption are common. While the Embassy will attempt to address egregious violations of basic rights, an individual’s private legal counsel should address procedural issues through the legal process. Embassy officials cannot intervene with judicial officials, interfere with the normal judicial process, or investigate allegations of corruption or other official misconduct.
Whether in detention after arrest or serving a prison term upon conviction, U.S. citizens should be prepared to face the realities of what are by U.S. standards inadequate facilities, overcrowding, poor food, and deficient sanitation in prisons in the Philippines. An incarcerated U.S. citizen may provide the Embassy with the names of family or friends who can provide financial assistance to purchase dietary supplements and basic necessities like soap and toothpaste. The Embassy can arrange for remittances to be sent through the Embassy to ensure that the money is delivered securely.
Although prison mail is subject to censorship, U.S. citizen detainees are entitled to write to the U.S. Embassy. Since consular officers make periodic visits to U.S. citizen detainees, they may discuss with him/her any problems arising from their confinement. Consular officers or local civic organizations can help prisoners to obtain reading material.