• The role of the CHR in the war on narco-politics

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    SASS ROGANDO SASOT

    THE Commission on Human Rights (CHR) has been criticized for seeming to undermine the government’s efforts against the narco-trade. CHR’s critics feel the palpable silence of the CHR whenever shabu addicts and drug syndicates commit all kinds of violence, endangering the right to life of a lot of people, the security of a community, and the integrity of a republic. Lampooned as the Commission on Criminal Rights, the CHR responded that they are only mandated to tackle human rights abuses committed by State actors.

    Poppycock! In 2006, the CHR investigated and held a hearing on Aruba Bar & Restaurant’s dress code policy which prohibits cross-dressers from entering their establishment. In December 2015, it agreed to launch an inquiry to find out if oil, gas, and coal companies, such as Shell and Exxon, had violated the human rights of Filipinos because of their role in the devastating effects of climate change. Are these respondents State actors?

    Sure, the CHR has the duty to investigate human rights abuses committed by government actors, even against drug personalities. But the CHR is mandated by law to investigate “all forms of human rights violations.”

    Ratified by the Philippines in 1999, the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) is the only human rights convention that specifically mentions the right against the illegal drug trade. Article 33 mandates that: “States Parties shall take all appropriate measures, including legislative, administrative, social and educational measures, to protect children from the illicit use of narcotic drugs and psychotropic substances as defined in the relevant international treaties, and to prevent the use of children in the illicit production and trafficking of such substances.” In short, children have a right to an illegal-drug-trade-free environment.

    The CHR has the duty to ensure that government actors are complying with that provision of the CRC. Yet we never hear CHR speak at all, nor launch an investigation, whenever that provision is being violated. For example, in February 2017, when the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency in Central Visayas, raised the alarm about children being employed as drug runners (Philippine Daily Inquirer, February 10, 2017), a clear violation of Article 33 of the CRC. Where was CHR?

    Also, the CHR could launch an inquiry into the culpability of government officials in creating an environment where children are exposed to the dangers, violence, and exploitation brought by drug syndicates. CHR could start investigating the cities where there are high drug affectation rate, like Caloocan, where there is a 100 percent drug affectation rate (GMA News, October 22, 2015). That means: CHR shouldn’t only investigate police abuse against Kian delos Santos but Caloocan’s compliance with Article 33 of CRC.

    This is something the CHR could contribute to our country’s “war on narco-politics” that is within their mandate. Why aren’t they doing it?

    Human rights are vocabularies of resistance against those who exercise power over us in different contexts of power relations. They act like a generative grammar, providing structure to the chaotic demands of human dignity. The individual-State relationship is just one of the myriad power relations in which our lives are embedded.

    But power relations aren’t just limited in the public sphere, they can also be found in the private sphere, as feminists have long pointed out, concisely expressed in this mantra: the personal is political. Child-parent, wife-husband, student-teacher, employee-employer, patient-doctor, patient-psychiatrist, consumer-businesses, people-media, people-NGOs, etcetera — these are all manifestations of power relations and the inequality that they engender is the fertile ground for resistance. Consequently, they are sites where we demand rights and perform the accompanying responsibilities of each right we claim.

    Even the relationship of ordinary citizens versus drug syndicates and their government protectors is a context of power relations. But this power relation is unlike any other we encounter in our daily normal lives.

    Drug syndicates and their government protectors aren’t like States from whom one can demand rights and responsibilities because in the first place the power that they exercise is not legitimate and their existence in our society serves no noble ends.

    The power relations between drug syndicates and their government protectors is a relationship akin to the relationship between humans and God. It’s a relationship of power that one can never ever equalize. In the face of the brutality of God’s power, the only thing humans can do is to pray for mercy.

    Drug syndicates and their government protectors behave exactly like that—we are at their mercy. But because they are not God, their casualties cannot just be dismissed as part of the divine plan of the Almighty.

    The millions of drug addicts and pushers who surrendered so far? That’s the current count of the casualties of the power wielded by drug syndicates and their government protectors. And that is on top of the number of families destroyed, communities terrorized, victims of rape, murder, robbery, and other heinous crimes committed by people under the influence of shabu sold by drug syndicates who in turn fatten the pockets of their government protectors.

    If CHR will not act to investigate grave human rights abuses fostered by the operations of powerful drug cartels and their government enablers, and how this violate Article 33 of CRC, then it has neglected its duty and just let narco-politics continue to create an environment inimical to human dignity.

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