THE move by the House of Representatives on Tuesday to cut the 2018 budget for the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) down to a token P1,000 amplifies the chamber’s disdain for the work of the people who presently run the CHR. It should be seen for what it really is: a daring act to disable this constitutional body from performing its mandated duty to guard and protect human rights in the country.
Without a budget, the CHR is bound to fail to serve as an “independent office” empowered to “investigate, on its own or on complaint by any party, all forms of human rights violations involving civil and political rights.”
Lawmakers – including the Speaker and the congressman who moved to give the CHR a P1,000 budget, Sagip partylist Rep. Rodante Marcoleta – seem unable to grasp the commission’s mandate. That in itself is an argument for giving the CHR resources to let everyone know what its function is in Philippine democracy.
All over the civilized world, human rights bodies serve as a check on abuses committed by entities and personnel of government. In fact, the Constitution grants the CHR the power to “monitor the Philippine government’s compliance with international treaty obligations on human rights.”
The Philippines has, in fact, advanced significantly on the human rights advocacy that it had the moral ascendancy to lead the Association of Southeast Asian Nations in putting up a human rights body in 2009, against the wishes of its autocratic neighbors. But Tuesday’s childish episode at the Batasan hall devalues this hard-earned reputation.
Marcoleta et al are making the Philippines an international laughingstock by taking to task the CHR for its supposed failure to protect the human rights of victims of criminality. That is not the job of the CHR, but of law enforcement.
But if it is the police or the military committing atrocities, thereby trampling upon the rights of citizens, the CHR is duty-bound to investigate and recommend the filing of charges before the courts.
On the other hand, the CHR must also live up to its constitutional mandate to become an “independent office” and shield itself from becoming politicized.
Its chairman, Jose Luis Martin Gascon, is perhaps the most rabid partisan ever to be appointed head of the constitutional body, having managed the election campaigns of the erstwhile ruling Liberal Party.
The anti-crime-and-corruption body VACC, while backing the House move to withdraw financial support for the human rights commission, made its position clear that it is not for the abolition of the CHR, but only for a congressional review of its mandate. VACC Founding Chairman Dante Jimenez explained that the move of the House to gut the CHR budget would only affect funds for maintenance and other operating expenses, and the office of CHR Chairman Gascon, not the salaries of its personnel. “The CHR is not Gascon. It is an institution provided by the Constitution. Unfortunately, you have a chairman who has been politicizing the commission.”
Gascon needs at least to check his political affiliations at the door. This means the CHR has to work painstakingly with the other organs of the state to improve the human rights situation in the country and continuously educate government personnel on how to protect these rights.
It needs to engage the Duterte administration more, and disabuse it of any notion that the CHR is part of efforts to undermine this government. An inability to put across this message as he performs this role should send a signal to Gascon it’s perhaps time for him to recuse himself from the CHR chairmanship.