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The Commission on Human Rights

Human right is defined as a right that is believed to belong justifiably to every person. Globally, the Commission on Human Rights was established in 1946 and was one of the first two “Functional Commissions” set up within the early United Nations structure. This commission may have been necessary with the atrocities, hardships and the loss of lives observed during World War II. With so many people displaced due to the effects of war, it may have been deemed necessary to address the importance of respecting every human being, his right of existence to equally enjoy unhindered the fruits of life on earth and with equal opportunities.

The proclamation and adaptation by the United Nations General Assembly of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights remains relevant today as it was on the day of its declaration. It is the document that, for the first time, articulated the rights and freedoms to which every human being is equally and inalienably entitled to. “Everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration, without distinction of any kind, such as race, color, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status. Furthermore, no distinction shall be made on the basis of the political, jurisdictional or international status of the country or territory to which a person belongs, whether it be independent, trust, non-self-governing or under any other limitation of sovereignty.”

Initially it was purely a policy to guide member countries. But in 1967, the Commission adopted intervention as its policy. The new policy meant that the Commission would also investigate and produce reports on violations. None of these measures, however, were able to make the Commission as effective as desired, mainly because of the presence of human rights violators and the politicization of the body. The Commission was repeatedly criticized for the composition of its membership. In particular, several of its member countries themselves had dubious human rights records, including states whose representatives had been elected to chair the commission. Another concern was that the Commission did not engage in constructive discussion of human rights issues, but was a forum for politically selective finger-pointing and criticism. Maybe this is why the Commission to this day remains ineffective in being properly adopted in both member and non-member countries.

In the Philippines, after the Marcos era, the late President Cory Aquino issued Executive Order No. 163, s. 1987: Declaring the effecttivity of the creation of the Commission on Human Rights as provided for in the 1987 Constitution, providing guidelines for the operation thereof, and for other purposes. The Commission derives its mandates from the Constitution, relevant domestic laws, and the eight core International Human Rights Instruments to which the Philippines is a State Party, as well as other United Nations Human Rights Conventions newly enforced.

Under Section 18, Article XIII of the Philippine Constitution, the Commission’s sole duty is to protect the civil and political rights of citizens in the Philippines. Based on the Constitution, the Commission has a broad mandate, which can be categorized into three major functional areas: 1) Human Rights Protection – Investigation and case management of complaints of violations, including all the powers and services in aid of investigation, of civil and political rights as well as economic, social, and cultural rights. Such powers and services include: citing for contempt for violations of its rules of procedure; legal aid and counseling; visitorial powers over jails and detention facilities; application of forensic techniques in aid of investigation; witness protection; and, financial assistance to victims; 2) Human Rights Promotion, which includes the wide range of strategies for policy, advocacy, promotion, social mobilization, education, training, public information, communication, research, networking and linkages; and 3) Human Rights Policy Advisory derived from monitoring government’s compliance with the treaty obligations that the Philippines has acceded to: International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), Convention Against Torture and Other Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CAT), Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), Convention Against Racial Discrimination (CERD), Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), Convention on the Protection of Migrant Workers and their Families (CMW); Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD).

This also includes the entire aspect of monitoring and evaluating the performance of the Executive, Legislative, and Judiciary to translate international human rights standards into national policies, laws, and practice. The Supreme Court of the Philippines in 1991 declared that the Commission did not possess the power of adjudication, and emphasized that its functions were primarily investigatory.

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Recently, the CHR is seen to be involved in political innuendos and accusations. Its current head, Chito Gascon, was an appointee of former president Benigno Aquino III and has served during President Cory Aquino’s term as main adviser in the revolutionary government, and member to both the Constitutional Commission that drafted the 1987 Constitution. He was an Undersecretary at the Department of Education (DepEd, from 2002-2005) & the Office of the President (Political Affairs, from 2011-2014). He was also a Board Member of the Bases Conversion Development Authority (BCDA) from 2010-2011. Indeed, a highly-politicized affiliation with the Liberal Party.

The true constitutional mandate of CHR which is to fairly address human rights issues in the Philippines for the whole community seems to be compromised with politically motivated intentions. Remember the abuse of the Indigenous Lumads last year? Where was the CHR then when the Lumads badly needed their help and support? Where was the CHR in the “Kidapawan Massacre” last March 27, 2016? How did the CHR handle the Mamasapano tragedy? Why did they claim it to be an “incident” when in reality it was a “massacre”? What actions have the CHR taken on violations of the rights of women; human trafficking; the rights of those rotting in jail, illegally detained; the rights of the poor; unfair labor practices; the sick who cannot afford to pay for hospital bills; the homeless; the rights of the children – rape, sex and exploitation?

The ultimate question is: Has the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) been constituted already in Congress as stated in the 1987 Constitution? Or is this Commission still under Malacañang’s Presidential Committee on Human Rights? Is this Commission working on legal grounds as a valid and constituted Commission?

As for the 119 congressmen who voted for a P1,000 budget, shame on you. If you want to get rid of the Commission and its Chairman, do it with more legitimate reasons and actions. Have some honor and self-respect. Find a more dignified way in trying to make a point. You are the very ones destroying the moral fiber of this nation by your unrefined ways. Mag hunos dili naman kayo.

As for the President and his PNP Chief, you can go on with your War on Drugs but kill the oppressors, the big ones and not the oppressed. Clearly, there is something wrong with the police force under your command. Too many innocent lives have been lost and wasted. Please take heed of the late Chinese philosopher, general and military strategist SunTzu’s words: Know thy self, know thy enemy. A thousand battles, a thousand victories.

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