IT struck me that the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) is in the same boat as the constitutional prohibition on political dynasties. Both are in suspended animation, because of the lack of an enabling law to legitimize them.
While watching the strange Senate hearing of the blue ribbon committee last Thursday, it occurred to me did the inquisitors find it mildly strange that the mayor and vice mayor of Davao City are both children of President Rodrigo Duterte? Is that city so barren of talent that it must mine only one family for people to administer its affairs?
Over at the Batasang Pambansa, does anyone care that the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) is now desperately fighting to survive and secure a budget for itself in the 2018 General Appropriations Act? The Speaker of the House of Representatives Pantaleon Alvarez has declared that CHR should have a zero-budget next year because it has been undermining the state, which pays for its salaries and wages and costs of operations.
Both phenomena are similar in some respects. Each concern is the subject of an explicit provision in the Constitution. And each is hobbled by the lack of a law to enforce the provision.
State of suspended animation
The protection of human rights and the prohibition of political dynasties, as provided by the 1987 Constitution, are in a similar state of suspended animation.
The Oxford dictionaries define suspended animation as “the temporary cessation of most vital functions without death, as in a dormant seed or a hibernating animal.”
Wikipedia amplifies the definition medically with this note: “This condition of apparent death or interruption of vital signs may be similar to a medical interpretation of suspended animation.”
What the Constitution says
What does the Constitution say on human rights and political dynasties?
1.In Article II, “declaration of principles and state policies,” Section 26 of the Constitution declares:
“The state shall guarantee equal access to opportunities for public service, and prohibit political dynasties as may be defined by law.”
2. In Article XIII, “social justice and human rights,” Section 17, the Charter provides:
Section 17,(1) there is hereby created an independent office called the Commission of Human Rights;(2) Until this commission is constituted, the existing Presidential Committee on Human Rights shall continue to exercise its present functions and powers.”
No enabling law
Both provisions have languished in the vine because President Corazon Aquino was not fully committed to getting them enacted into law.
Without the enabling law, there is no Commission on Human Rights. Without an enabling law, there is no prohibition of political dynasties in our constitutional system.
The appalling spate of extra-judicial killings (EJKs), and the state of the political culture are reflections of this statutory lack.
Unless Congress passes a law prohibiting political dynasties, the constitutional prohibition cannot be enforced. Political dynasties will continue to reign over national politics, and no new blood will irrigate our politics. Several legislators have filed bills to activate the provision, including former mayor and speaker Feliciano Belmonte, Jr, who oddly was secretly moving to establish his own political dynasty in Quezon City (his daughter is now vice mayor and bracing for a run for mayor in 2019).
Unless the legislature constitutes the Commission on Human Rights, it does not have a statutory basis to exist, and to deserve a budget. The “thereby phrase” in the Constitution does not suffice to create the commission (no agency of government has ever been created by a “thereby”). Neither can the CHR claim to be a constitutional commission, because the Charter is explicit in establishing only three constitutional commissions: the Civil Service Commission (CSC); the Commission on Audit (COA), and the Commission on Elections (Comelec).
Cory Aquino tried to convert her Presidential Committee on Human Rights into the HR commission by signing an executive order to constitute it. This move was inadequate. Under the 1987 Constitution, Congress must constitute the commission by legislative action.
CHR engaged in self-deception
The CHR survives today through self-deception, not statutory mandate. It tries to finagle the constitutional provision as sufficient to create it.
Only CHR chairman Chito Gascon and CHR employees believe this. Not even the Liberal and Yellow legislators will say for the record that the Cory executive order legally created the CHR.
Even so, the bogus commission persists with the deception.
In the face of the “zero budget” initiative of the Speaker, CHR and Gascon have launched a campaign through Facebook and the media to challenge the congressional move, claiming that it is constitutionally entitled to existence and a budget.
CHR now falsely claims that it is one of the commissions created by the 1987 Constitution, that it is an “independent office” and guaranteed “fiscal autonomy”.
But nowhere does the Charter say that the CHR is a constitutional commission. At most, it suggests that it will be an independent office when properly constituted.
Another CHR post contends: “If [zero budget]is given, that is a clear violation of what is stated in the Constitution and a blatant obstruction to carrying out our mandate as the [national human rights institute]of this country.” Institute? The word is nowhere to be found in the constitutional provision.
Gascon tries to be visible as much as possible in the media, thinking that this way the CHR’s existence will be legitimated. The big problem is that the more CHR barks, the more the administration itches to abolish the agency
What is to be done?
How is abolition to be averted? What of the welfare and well-being of CHR’s employees?
The solution is for Congress to study the issue afresh and decide whether the nation truly needs an independent human rights commission to uphold what is enumerated in the Bill of Rights, and protected by due process.
At a time when the UN Human Rights Commission (UNHRC) and international human rights organizations have become more intrusive on the sovereign affairs of nations, the idea of establishing a human rights body to police the state is not popular with most states.
As things stand, Speaker Alvarez’s “zero budget” initiative will likely carry the day at the House of Representatives. CHR spokesperson lawyer Jacqueline de Guia says that if the “zero budget” plan is pushed, CHR would be constrained to “take the issue to court, and question it for being unconstitutional.”
De Guia says the CHR remains optimistic that “support will still be there” from the Congress, especially the Senate, which actually recommended an increase in the CHR’s capital outlay for 2017.
I think a case can be made for taking care of CHR employees; but a stronger case can be made for abolition, since there is no law, and government is now hard-pressed to realize savings from the abolition of non-performing and redundant offices.
Which has a better chance of getting an enabling law—the Commission on Human Rights or the prohibition of political dynasties? This is where fortune-tellers head for the exits.