In this photo posted on the Commission on Human Rights Facebook page on November 4 shows the signing of the implementing rules and regulations for the "Safe Spaces Act."
CHR Facebook page
Despite CHR's efforts, some senators still seem unsure of commission's job
Gaea Katreena Cabico (Philstar.com) - November 21, 2019 - 5:47pm

MANILA, Philippines — The Commission on Human Rights has been explaining its mandate through both traditional and social media, its spokesperson said Friday,  days after administration allies in the Senate seemed to still be confused about what the agency does.

On Tuesday, administration senators grilled the CHR during deliberations on the human rights body's proposed budget for 2020.

Sen. Christopher "Bong" Go, the president's former aide, constant companion and de facto spokesman, said that the CHR focuses on law enforcement agencies accused of committing human rights violations under the administration’s "war on drugs" and on the "rights of drug lords and criminals."

Go even asked CHR chairperson Chito Gascon to choose between the lives of innocent Filipinos and lives of criminals.

Gascon responded that the commission is tasked with ensuring the rights of victims of crimes as well ensuring that suspected criminals are treated humanely and with due process.

Senate President Vicente "Tito" Sotto III, meanwhile, asked Gascon: “Don’t you believe that we you commit a heinous crime, you have given up your right, you have given up your human rights?”

The CHR chair stressed that all persons are guaranteed rights to due process under the Constitution, a position that Sotto said he disagrees with.

The 1987 Constitution provided for the creation of CHR and gave the mandate to protect and promote the rights and dignity of every human being in the country.

The CHR says on its website that it serves both rights-holders or the vulnerable sectors and the duty-bearers, which include the police, military and other people in authority.

‘What is CHR’s position?’

Sen. Ronald “Bato” Dela Rosa, former police and corrections bureau chief, accused CHR of being silent amid the public uproar on the reported early release of murder and rape convict Antonio Sanchez through Republic Act 10592 or the Good Conduct Time Allowance law, an assertion that is patently untrue.

"I just want to know what is CHR’s statement on the public uproar: are they in agreement with the public because CHR was silent when this news broke out," Dela Rosa said in Filipino.

The commission actually released a statement on on August 24 urging the careful scrutiny of cases that may qualify under the law and its retroactive application.

“We must be wary of the haphazard application of this law. Releasing an undeserving offender will only perpetuate injustice,” Jacqueline De Guia, CHR spokesperson, said at the time.

Sen. Richard Gordon, a lawyer, advised CHR to make public what the agency is doing to let everyone know it is doing something and help people understand how can they participate and go after human rights abuses.

"Judges are killed, even teachers, policemen and government employees, among others. They too have a right to life and to be protected," Gordon said.

He added: "The public has become impervious to these killings, even drug-related killings, where no drug lords have been killed so far, only ordinary drug users and pushers. What is the CHR’s position on this?"

The commission said in 2017, when similar criticisms were thrown at it by administration allies, that: "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.

It does, however, also comment on attacks on security officials.

READ: CHR: Congress knows commission's role, mandate

Reaching out

CHR has not been remiss in explaining its functions to the public, it said. It publishes material on its mandate, accomplishments and positions on various issues on both traditional and social media.

“CHR has also proactively reached out to schools, communities and other organizations so we may clarify issues and better explain the value of CHR as an independent national human rights institution,” De Guia said in a message to Philstar.com.

Among the powers and functions of CHR include investigating all forms of human rights violations involving civil and political rights, providing legal measures for protection of human rights of all persons within the Philippines as well as Filipinos residing abroad, recommending measures to promote human rights to Congress and monitoring the government’s compliance with international treaty obligations on human rights.

In 2017, De Guia said the commission has “consistently” reached out to Congress and other government agencies to orient them on what the CHR does.

“In this spirit, CHR is open to collaborate with government offices and officials who truly seek to understand our mandate and work with CHR to better protect and promote human rights in the country,” the CHR spokesperson said.

‘Serious decline’ in rights appreciation

The perceptions of Duterte-allied senators on CHR repeat and reinforce the same message the president and his men have used against the commission.

In 2017, Duterte threatened to abolish the CHR, which has been critical of his controversial off-color remarks and killings associated with his brutal war on drugs.

In the same year, the Duterte-allied House of Representatives sought to give CHR a measly budget of P1,000 before relenting to opposition from the Senate.

In an interview with Philstar.com in 2018, De Guia acknowledged there is a “serious” decline in the appreciation of human rights and that the narrative has been slanted.

She stressed it is CHR’s role as the “conscience of the government” to call them out and provide advice using a human rights lens.

“It is a challenge for the commission right now to change public perception and to convey that human rights is non-partisan and we are not anti-government not do we take a contrary stance against the government,” De Guia said.

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