VOTING 16-1-1, the Consultative Committee (ConCom) tasked to review the 1987 Constitution on Monday voted to elevate the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) to a constitutional body.
However, the ConCom clarified that it was not inclined to give it prosecutorial powers.
The ConCom chairman, former chief justice Reynato Puno, said the elevation of the CHR to the level of constitutional body was “consistent with our desire to expand its coverage to include the socioeconomic and environmental rights which are to be enshrined in the Bill of Rights, and to include non-state (private) actors, as well in its jurisdiction.”
“With the expansion of its coverage, there is also a need to expand its membership to include, among others, the suggestion of Senator Nene Pimentel to have a representative of the indigenous peoples, whose environmental and socio-cultural rights are an issue in many cases,” he said.
“The inclusion of a representative of the marginalized sector is also necessary because the socioeconomic rights are for the benefit of the poor and marginalized sector of society,” Puno said.
In an earlier radio interview, Puno said the change in the mandate of the CHR was intended also to “correct the misconception that only State (government) actors violate human rights.”
“The mandate of the CHR will be changed. First, our fellowmen believe that the CHR only runs after government forces who violate human rights. But that is wrong—even civil and political rights should be covered,” he said in a mix of Filipino and English.
“It is indeed true that at first its objective is to run after the government because the intention is to protect the people against government interference,” Puno said.
“But if you will see the evolution of rights, even political and civil rights, it is not only the government commits violations—even non-State actors.”
When it comes to the protection of socioeconomic rights and environmental rights, it is clear that the violators are non-state actors, the former Supreme Court chief said.
“For example, the environmental degradation, isn’t that the irresponsible mining companies violate environmental rights?” he asked.
ConCom spokesman Ding Generoso said the body’s proposal to transform the CHR into a constitutional body was “intended to enhance the CHR’s fiscal autonomy.”
“It does not, however, include the grant of prosecutorial powers. The elevation of the CHR to the level of a constitutional body would also involve strengthening its investigative powers and expanding membership to include representatives from, among others, the marginalized sector, indigenous peoples and environmental advocates,” he said.
During his presentation of CHR’s mandate before ConCom on April 3, CHR Chairman Jose Luis Martin Gascon said that “human rights institutions “are supposed to be either constitutional or legislatively mandated bodies with the goal of protecting and promoting human rights; they are part of the State apparatus and are necessarily funded by the State.”
“They should be pluralist in composition. There should be diverse representation from all sectors of society as well as reflective of its staff,” Gascon said.
“There should be adequate resources that should provide for an ability to have formal independence from the government of the day and adequate powers of investigation,” he added.
Those who voted in favor of converting the CHR into a constitutional body were Puno, retired justices Antonio Eduardo Nachura and Bienvenido Reyes; lawyers Arthur Aguilar, Antonio Arellano, Ali Pangalian Balindong, Roan Libarios, Martin Loon, Susan Ubalde-Ordinario, Randolf Parcasio, Rodolfo Robles, Lawrence Wacnang; professors Eddie Alih and Edmund Tayao; Dr. Virglio Bautista; and former dean Julio Teehankee.
Former Senate president Aquilino “Nene” Pimentel Jr. inhibited himself from voting because his daughter, Gwendolyn Pimentel-Gana, is a CHR commissioner.
Lawyer Ferdinand Bocobo was the only one who voted “no.” Absent during the voting were lawyers Victor de la Serna and Reuben Canoy as well as Fr. Ranhilio Aquino.