Leo Villarino (left) of the Commission on Human Rights examines Marvin Gimpeso, an inmate of the Cebu City Jail, who accused jail guards of mauling him upon his return to jail following an escape last month. The Freeman/ Paul Jun E. Rosaroso, file

CHR: Congress knows commission's role, mandate
Jonathan de Santos (philstar.com) - August 8, 2017 - 8:35am
MANILA, Philippines — The Commission on Human Rights has not been remiss in explaining its role and function to Congress, some members of which have criticized it for not speaking up against criminals.
 
Asked whether the commission reaches out to Congress and other government offices to orient them on what the CHR does, commission spokesperson Jacqueline De Guia responded: "We have consistently done that."
 
In a message to Philstar.com, she added representatives of the commission "sat in most congressional hearings to mainstream human rights in legislation and submitted position papers on proposed legislation."
 
On Tuesday, the House of Representatives released a press release on how some lawmakers "took turns decrying the way the Commission on Human Rights has been performing its role as a human rights body" at a budget hearing on Monday.
 
The House press release, which was also sent out through Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez's office e-mail address, said lawmakers criticized the CHR for being "quick to denounce alleged human rights violations committed by the law enforcement agencies, but is noticeably quiet on the human rights abuses perpetrated by criminals or terrorists."
 
The CHR has explained repeatedly that speaking out against crime by non-government actors like criminals is not its main function.
 
 
The commission has also shared infographics explaining the difference between their role and that of law enforcement agencies.
 
"It is the responsibility of the CHR to protect the rights of the people from abuse by state agents such as the government, police and the military. The CHR is mandated to ensure that the government will not abuse and violate its duty to protect the primary rights of the people," the commission said in Filipino.
 
Kabayan party-list Rep. Harry Roque was also quoted in the House press statement as saying "they choose only to criticize the human rights record of the current administration and they remain silent on the human rights record of the past dispensation." 

CHR probed past administrations

The CHR was not silent on potential cases of government abuse during the Aquino administration.
 
In 2016, the commission recommended charges against local government officials, law enforcement personnel, inquest prosecutors and protest organizers in the violent dispersal of farmers in Kidapawan in Cotobato province in April of that year.
 
"Whatever violence may have come from the side of the protesters, there is no justifying the use by the Philippine National Police of firearms. It is clear that the PNP fired the first shot in a situation where they were not even supposed to bring guns," the CHR said in a 46-page resolution.
 
"The principles of peaceful dispersal, negotiations and maximum tolerance prescribed under the PNP Operations Manual were not observed," it added. 
 
In 2015, Chito Gascon, the CHR chairman, urged law enforcement agencies to pursue the killers of Emerito Samarca, executive director of Alternative Learning Center for Agriculture and Livelihood Development (Alcadev) and community leaders Dionel Campos and Aurelio Sinzo.
 
The Lumad leaders were killed in Lianga, Surigao del Sur by a group that activists linked to the Army’s 36th Infantry Battalion.
 
"We call for the disbandment of the Bagani to ensure the safety of the people," Gascon said then, referring to the paramilitary unit believed to be behind the killings.
 
In 2014, the CHR also investigated a so-called "wheel of torture" that Laguna police allegedly used to torture crime suspects in a police facility in Biñan, Laguna.

CHR has no power to prosecute

"I’m afraid that unless you (CHR) actually take steps to end impunity as far as the previous administration is concerned, it is not just the president who will perceive CHR as becoming a very political entity being used against this current administration, but the common people as well," Rep. Roque said on Monday.
 
In 2015, when not yet a member of Congress, Roque noted in his blog that "the CHR can only investigate but has no power to prosecute."
 
He added: "It is this lack of prosecutorial powers that leads to the perception that the CHR has not lived up to the public's expectations. In fact, while the Commission’s mandate to investigate is provided in the Constitution itself, its findings are not binding on the prosecutor whose functions are only spelled out in the Administrative Code."
 
Roque also said that prosecutors can, in fact, ignore recommendations made by the CHR.
 
"Current practice is to treat complaints filed by the CHR only as complaints similar to those filed by police agencies or the victims directly. Prosecutors do not even accord the Constitutional Commission any presumption of regularity in their findings that there is a violation of human rights in a given case," he said.
 
Roque, described in the House press statement as a human rights lawyer, said then that: "Instead, we can only measure how many investigations it has conducted from the complaints that it had received from the public."
 
Gascon said during the budget hearing Monday that the commission investigated 941 cases of alleged extrajudicial killings under the Arroyo administration, 686 under the Aquino administration, and 561 under Duterte.

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