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First an autopsy, then resurrection under a human rights act by Congress

July 20, 2019


First word

THIS, I submit, is what is needed to correct the deplorable situation where the country’s principal human rights agency, the Commission on Human Rights (CHR), spends no time defending the human rights situation in the country, and is clueless before actions like the UN Human Rights Council resolution calling for an international investigation of human rights violations in the Philippines.

I was led to this conclusion after studying the current row over the UN council resolution.

Two specific media accounts have pointed me in this direction.

First, a report on July 19 by the Daily Tribune that, according to Sen. Richard Gordon, chairman of the Senate blue ribbon committee, the CHR could not substantiate its claim of thousands of extrajudicial killings (EJK) in the drug war, during the Senate investigations.

Second, a Manila Times editorial on July 16 declared that the CHR appears more concerned about justifying the council’s action. The paper said: “The PCHR should try championing our country and our government for a change.”

I have also discovered in my research that the CHR was smuggled into existence by the Corazon Aquino administration on May 5, 1987 through an executive order. The EO, made through the residual legislative power reposed in Mrs Aquino by the new Charter, sought to beat to the tape the convening of the new Congress in July that year.

The distorted international perception of the Philippine human rights situation, and the chronic inadequacy of the human rights commission have followed from this illegitimate enactment ever since.

CHR not upto its task

I am reprinting portions of a column I wrote on Feb. 15, 2018, wherein I opined that the world’s picture of the human rights situation in the Philippines shows that the CHR is inadequate to fill its task.

“When a foreign government or an international media organization deplores the human rights situation in the Philippines, or criticizes certain programs and policies of the government, who should be in the best position to clarify the situation, and who can explain best our government’s policies and programs for the promotion and protection of human rights?

“I submit that the first and principal responder should be the republic’s Commission on Human Rights (CHR) and therefore its chairman. As the government agency tasked and funded to attend directly to human rights, the CHR should be the one which should be setting the record straight, and assuring the world that the country actively protects human rights and is not slipping back to the Middle Ages. it should be the most knowledgeable and articulate about the issues, and the most credible.

“With his access to the facts and statistics reflecting the situation on the ground, and with a whole commission to back him, the CHR chairman can correct the mistakes and misinformation of observers and critics.

“The way things are now, the presidential spokesman who does more of the talking, though largely without clarifying anything. CHR chairman Chito Gascon spends his time agreeing with or secretly cheering the derogatory statements being made.

“The world’s false picture of human rights in the Philippines underscores the cluelessness and misguided agenda of Chairman Gascon and the CHR, and the utter waste of public resources on the human rights commission.

“The fact is, the human rights commission and its chairman are not very knowledgeable about the human rights situation in the country. They are not expert on their area of responsibility, because they have concerned themselves with doing propaganda against the government, instead of checking violations and promoting human rights.

“They spend their time feeding the generally unsubstantiated reports of international human rights organizations and UN human rights officials. They even slapped the country by hosting, at public expense, a visit by UN human rights rapporteur, Ms Agnes Callamard.

“The problem starts with chairman Gascon. He distorted the commission’s mission in July 2017 when he declared that the CHR’s mandate is ‘to make sure that the government and agencies under it are held liable for human rights violations.’

“He compounded this by claiming that the CHR is tasked to go only after state violators, and is not empowered to stop violations and violators in the private sector.

“I have examined every sentence and every word in the constitutional provision for the human rights commission (Article XIII, Section 17); but I could not find the word ‘state’ anywhere in the provision, or any mention of human rights violations by government and its agents.

Giving CHR a bad name

“This is a perverted view of the work of the human rights commission. The CHR was thrown off track and taken into partisan politics from the moment President Benigno Aquino 3rd appointed Jose Luis Martin Gascon as the chairman of the commission.

“Gascon did not espouse his anti-state orientation when Aquino was still in power. He looked away when massacres took place during that time and when the killings of journalists reached alarming levels.

“Gascon’s predecessors Leila de Lima and Etta Rosales were not more observant. De Lima as CHR chair tried her damndest to investigate and expose the Davao Death Squads when Rodrigo Duterte was still Davao mayor; she only succeeded in developing a lasting enmity with Duterte. After the Mamasapano massacre, Rosales went through the motions of conducting a CHR investigation of possible human rights violations in Mamasapano. She claimed to have found nothing with her ocular inspection of the killing field, and did not come up with a report.

“It must be said that the CHR has been poorly served by its top officials, and given a bad name.

A decent human rights record

“Ironically, the Philippines has a decent human rights record. If we suspend disbelief for a moment, despite President Duterte’s incessant boasts about killing criminals and vulgarities about women, the record deserves more than outright dismissal.

“What do we see in the record?

“The Philippines was a signatory to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) drafted by the United Nations (UN) in 1948; it was represented at the founding of the UN.

“The country did not only accept the declaration, it has strived to adopt the UDHR in its political system.

“The Philippines adheres to the UDHR through the Bill of Rights in its Constitution, and continues to enact laws and policies that cater to specific concerns and sectors of human rights.

“High among the protections provided by the Bill of Rights are due process of law and equal protection under the law.

“Besides upholding civil rights, the Philippines has also worked hard at promoting human rights across a wide spectrum of concerns — economic, social and cultural.

“Many countries across the world have hardly begun to move into the areas that the Philippines has ventured to advance the cause of human rights for its people.

CHR’s shortcomings

“My principal criticism of the CHR is that, as our principal human rights agency, it should be the one which can provide the vital data and information on the human rights situation, in the same way that the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA) provides the figures on the national population, and the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) provides the figures on labor and employment in the country.

“It does not do this work. The CHR, if properly organized and led, should be able to tell us and the world about the real human rights situation in the country. It will identify the problem areas for government to resolve. It will identify what is wanting or wrongheaded in government policies.”

To correct the situation, the nation should take advantage of the convening of the 18th Congress on Monday. Government should order a proper autopsy on the CHR with a view to uncovering what was irregular and missing in President Aquino’s rush-rush executive order in 1987.

After that, the new Congress should enact a human rights act like what the UK parliament has done.

The legislation should order the establishment of a commission on human rights, with full authority and responsibilities.


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