The Presidential Palace on Thursday claimed that Commission on Human Rights Chairperson Chito Gascon, in photo, and his commissioners served at the pleasure of President Rodrigo Duterte. File

CHR chair, commissioners 'serve at president's pleasure', Palace claims
Audrey Morallo (philstar.com) - July 27, 2017 - 10:25am

MANILA, Philippines (Updated 8:22 p.m.)  — Malacañang defended on Thursday President Rodrigo Duterte’s lashing out at the Commission on Human Rights, falsely claiming that its chairperson and commissioners serve at the pleasure of the chief executive.

In a media briefing, Presidential Spokesperson Ernesto Abella said that that president was just expressing his frustration over the supposed bias of the agency, which has repeatedly criticized the government for human rights abuses in the conduct of its campaign against illegal drugs. The commission was specifically created to check rights abuses by the state and its agents.

Abella also admitted that the CHR, being a constitutional commission, could not be abolished by mere congressional legislation.

He said that CHR Chairperson Chito Gascon and his commissioners "serve at the pleasure of the president."

He also said: “Technically, they may be replaced at his pleasure.”

Loretta Ann Rosales, a former chairperson of the CHR, debunked this and said that it is a constitutional office and that CHR chairpersons and commissioners have fixed seven-year terms. 

“Of course not. The chair does not serve at the pleasure of the president,” she told Philstar.com.

Under Executive Order No. 163, s. 1987, which declared the existence of the CHR, the chairperson and commissioners cannot be reappointed after the seven-year term. Commissioners appointed to fill vacancies may only serve the unexpired term of their predecessor. 

According to the 1987 Constitution that created the CHR: “The President, the Vice-President, the Members of the Supreme Court, the Members of the Constitutional Commissions, and the Ombudsman may be removed from office, on impeachment for, and conviction of, culpable violation of the Constitution, treason, bribery, graft and corruption, other high crimes, or betrayal of public trust. All other public officers and employees may be removed from office as provided by law, but not by impeachment.”

Going by voting on martial law extension on July 22, Duterte's PDP-Laban has the numbers in the House of Representatives to impeach officials and enough at the Senate to convict. 

In 2014, the Office of the Ombudsman ordered CHR Commissioner Cecilia Rachel Quisumbing dismissed from government service  for the administrative offense of grave misconduct for using portions of her staff's salaries and using the money for her personal benefit

Quisumbing was also charged with graft, direct bribery and violation of Republic Act 6713, the Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Public Officials and Employees before the Sandiganbayan.

The Court of Appeals affirmed her dismissal from service in 2016.

Panelo: Gascon should just resign

Presidential Legal Counsel Salvador Panelo called on Gascon to resign instead, claiming he has been biased against Duterte. 

“If it’s a fixed term, I don’t think [he can be fired],” Panelo said.

The chief presidential lawyer said that Gascon should allow the president to appoint a more “objective” person to the position.

“I think this Chito Gascon is not functioning as an objective chair of the human rights commission. He should have the decency to resign. Step aside and let another person who is not vengeful, not vindictive, not subjective [to take over],” he told reporters.

“Panay banat nila kay presidente eh ilang beses nila inimbestiga wala naman silang dinedemanda,” he added.

CHR welcomes Palace statement against abolition

The CHR said that it welcomed the statement that it would not be abolished and the respect for its independence.

“Similarly, we wish to assure the public that the Commission is non-partisan and its members come from different sectors to guarantee pluralism to ensure balance and fair representation,” Jacqueline De Guia, CHR spokesperson, told Philstar.com.

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