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PCHR distorts the meaning of its ‘independent’ status

March 18, 2019

BY declaratively opposing the presidential decision to withdraw the Philippine government from the Rome Statute, which established the International Criminal Court, the Philippine Commission on Human Rights (PCHR) not only challenges a lawful and constitutional policy decision, it is also provoking a litigation in the Supreme Court of the legitimacy of its creation and its powers.

This is a formal argument whose time has surely come, because the contradictions between the commission and the government of the day have reached an outrageous limit.

For years now, we have noticed how the PCHR under its present chairman, Jose Luis Gascon, takes extremely contrary positions to the policies adopted by President Duterte and his administration. It invariably takes the side of foreign critics of the Philippines on questions of law and human rights. It has even sponsored the visits of foreign officials to Manila, as they sought to make a living out of attacking the human rights credentials of the government.

When the country is criticized or attacked on a matter relating to human rights, the PCHR never bothers to enlighten the international community and the media on what the government and the society are actually doing to uphold the standard of human rights in the country, and how they are doing so. Its constant stance is to endorse and widely circulate the foreign criticism, as though it were an internal body created to criticize or police our national government.

Today, one year after the Philippines’ formal notice of withdrawal from the international tribunal, the commission, led by chairman Gascon and its spokesperson Jacqueline de Guia, has gone into overdrive to lambast the decision as a mistake.

The commission equates the withdrawal with the virtual grant of immunity by government to human rights violators in the ongoing war against illegal drugs.

It has made proposals that will predictably be rejected by policymakers as totally unacceptable.

It urges the Duterte administration to reconsider its withdrawal from the Rome Statute as a sign of its dedication to the rule of law and human rights.

It says the best way for the Philippines to move forward on the issue is to cooperate with the ICC’s preliminary examination of the complaint and answer the charges.

Lastly, the commission proudly declares that it continues to view the unilateral withdrawal of the Philippines from the ICC as a reversal of the country’s commitment to international treaty obligations.

“In the end,” said Ms. de Guia in a statement, “it is the Filipino people who are bound to lose when they no longer have the recourse in times when the local justice systems fail in protecting them. It is then impunity that wins as a consequence of withdrawal.”

Really? Is this what the work of the human rights commission is all about? Is it to sit in judgment of the government? Is it to shame our country before the world? Where does it say in the Charter or statutory papers that it has this remarkable authority?

We submit that the PCHR’s posturing has gone far enough. It is time to call a halt.

Evidently, Mr. Gascon and the commission believe they can take this stance because it is referred to in passing as ‘independent’ by the Constitution. It misconstrues independence as freedom from the authority of the chief executive. They mean to take this matter to the limit.

This is nonsense.

In a government system where public officials and the code of conduct are honorable and upright, there is a mode of action for officials and employees to take when they cannot support a policy decision or the person of a higher authority. That mode of action is resignation from office.

We think this is the proper course for Mr. Gascon and the commission to take. This is more forthright than berating our leaders in the media. This way, Gascon et al can proclaim to the whole world how noble they are.

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