THIS is what happened when the House of Representatives voted to defund the Commission on Human Rights (CHR), by reducing its proposed P678 million appropriation for the next fiscal year to a mere P1,000, the average price of a congressman’s two-course meal in any of their favorite casino-restaurants, all because of the commission’s critical stand against the extra-judicial killings in President Rodrigo Duterte’s murderous war on drugs. It is by far the boldest and most shameless show of blind support for DU30’s contempt of any criticism of his naked violations of human rights.
The game is not yet over, for the Senate appears determined to restore sanity and reason into the legislative process, and insist on giving the CHR the amount originally proposed. But this act of madness on the part of the House has made it indisputably clear that this present assembly of power-mad politicians, who no longer represent anything other than their own whimsies and proclivities, has become a clear and present danger to the Republic.
And how they gloated
Like cats that had just swallowed their canaries, they posed for pictures after their ignominious act, smiling and gloating and flashing DU30’s symbol of a clenched fist. But they had absolutely nothing to gloat about. They had become a total shame to public office, and are clearly no help to a morally and politically wounded President, wounded not only by the latest developments in the extra-judicial drug killings, but also by the unverified allegations about his eldest son Paolo’s involvement in illegal drug smuggling and with the Chinese Triad.
DU30 needs measures that will encourage and inspire people to have more confidence in him and his government, not anything like this. The original CHR budget had been proposed by the Office of the President, who obviously had wanted it passed. In reducing it to virtually zero, the House, led by the indecorously arrogant Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez, outdid the President himself. But the President did not appear displeased with his lackey’s overzealousness. Did he actually have nothing to do with it? We want to give him the benefit of the doubt, but there has been so much duplicity and double-talk from this government.
Before this, DU30 showered then-US Ambassador to the Philippines Philip Goldberg, US President Barack Obama, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, the leaders of the European Union, and UN Special Rapporteur on extra-judicial killings, Agnes Callamard, among others, with sexual curses for expressing their concern about the extra-judicial killings carried out by the Philippine National Police and so-called “vigilantes”. Then, for the same reason, he threatened to “separate” economically and militarily from the US and align himself with China and Russia “against the world”. He also renounced all grants and assistance from the EU because of alleged conditionalities related to human rights.
Shooting human rights workers
In recent days, DU30 told the police to shoot human rights workers who would “interfere” in their “work.” “Work” usually involved killing alleged drug suspects while reportedly “resisting arrest”. Before the National Bureau of Investigation called it a “rubout,” this was the initial police narrative about Albuera Mayor Rolando Espinosa who was gunned down inside his detention cell at the Baybay, Leyte sub-provincial jail at 4 a.m. while allegedly resisting the service of a search warrant. This, too, was the same story about the 17-year-old Caloocan student Kian Loyd de los Santos, who was shot once in the back and twice in the head, despite his pleas to be freed because he had to prepare for his next day’s exams. In so many cases, the victim was unarmed, but ended holding a gun, which he was supposed to have fired before he ended as a corpse.
From May 23 onward, there was a brief lull in the killings because of the Maute Islamic State-influenced attack on Marawi City, which created a new front. But the war on drugs resumed with new kill quotas for the police, and an increased bounty of P20,000 per kill, according to highly informed police sources. A new point system for the police has also been reportedly put in place—-5 percent credit if no drug pushers or users are reported in a barangay; 8 percent credit if some pushers and users are arrested (a rare thing); and 25 percent if some pushers and users are killed.
In just 13 months of the DU30 presidency, some 14,100 human rights incidents were reported to have occurred. In all of Ferdinand Marcos’ 21 years, nine of which came under Martial Law, fighting bloody communist and Moro rebellions, some 9,400 incidents were reported to have occurred. In the Sineloa cartel, there were supposed to have been 100,000 incidents in eight years.
DU30’s staggering number is of course open to dispute. In his drug war, there has been no scrupulous documentation, nor due process, and the law that holds a policeman answerable in court for every fatal encounter with a suspect has been totally set aside. DU30’s command, often bathed in a torrent of cuss words, has replaced every law, regulation or manual on law enforcement.
Where the war begins
But not until the House decided to defund the CHR could anyone say with some certainty that the DU30 government has declared total war on human rights. It has become the undeniable reality. Unless the Senate succeeds in convincing the House to restore the CHR appropriation during the bicameral conference, DU30’s war on human rights will move to a higher level, and the brave effort of the constitutional fathers to create an in-house agency that looks after the promotion and protection of human rights within the government will wither on the vine.
This is not what DU30 needs. Not now, not ever. What DU30 needs most is a strong CHR, not an enfeebled or shriveled one. Instead of wishing the CHR out of existence, DU30 should exert every effort to make sure that the agency is able to perform all its functions under the Constitution and serve as a primary resource in making sure he remains constitutionally alert, as far as his human rights obligations are concerned.
As mandated by the Constitution, DU30 should help to enable the CHR to:
*Investigate on its own, or on complaint by any party, all forms of human rights violations involving civil and political rights;
*Provide appropriate legal measures for the protection of human rights of all persons within the Philippines as well as Filipinos residing abroad, and provide for preventive measures and legal aid services to the underprivileged whose human rights have been violated or need protection;
*Exercise visitorial powers over jails, prisons, or detention facilities;
*Establish a continuing program of research, education, and information to enhance respect for the primacy of human rights;
*Recommend to Congress effective measures to promote human rights and to provide for compensation of victims of violations of human rights, or their families;
*Monitor the government’s compliance with international treaty obligations on human rights;
*Grant immunity from prosecution to any person whose testimony or possession of documents or other evidence is necessary or convenient to determine the truth in any investigation conducted by it or under its authority;
*Request the assistance of any department, bureau or office or agency in the performance of its functions.
A glaring legal defect
Above all, DU30 must make sure the CHR operates on solid legal foundation. For although the CHR is a creation of the Constitution, it appears to lack the enabling legislation that defines “the term of office and other qualifications of the Members of the Commission.”
According to Section 17 (2) Article XIII of the Constitution, this “shall be provided by law.” Executive Order 163, issued by President Cory Aquino on May 5, 1987, does not have the power and authority of law, since her power to legislate as revolutionary president expired upon the promulgation of the 1987 Constitution on February 2, 1987 when she ceased to be revolutionary president.
No one has raised this legal issue before. But it is a glaring misreading of the Constitution, which has allowed the CHR to be funded regularly year after year until this unfortunate House incident. Without a ruling from the Supreme Court, the House cannot possibly unilaterally decide to withhold funding now, just because there is no law defining “the term of office and other qualifications of the Members of the Commission.” Perhaps the best course of action is some remedial legislation that cures the existing defect and further strengthens the commission.
It would be a mistake for DU30 or Congress to exploit this legal defect and throw out the CHR altogether. The constitutional mandate stands, and kicking the CHR in the butt is the last thing DU30 needs at this time. He is now under international attack precisely for his human rights record, the latest being the statement of UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, Prince of Jordan, at the 36th session of the Human Rights Council in Geneva.
Zeid said that “in the Philippines, I continue to be gravely concerned by the President’s open support for a shoot-to-kill policy regarding suspects as well as by the apparent absence of credible investigations into reports of thousands of extra-judicial killings and the failure to prosecute any perpetrator”. DU30 needs to build his case against this.
Instead of simply allowing Ernesto Abella, the presidential spokesman, to argue foolishly that Zeid’s statement is “without factual basis,” DU30 could probably do better by showing the Geneva-based council that an independent constitutional body in his own country is making its own assessment of his human rights performance.
This means supporting the CHR’s continued existence, despite initial problems that may have arisen between him and CHR Chairman Jose Luis Martin Gascon. He has to decide that having a potentially critical CHR before him presents a greater opportunity to demonstrate his statesmanship and courage than simply getting rid of it because he cannot stand criticism.