CHR chair Chito Gascon succumbs to COVID-19, dies at 57

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CHR chair Chito Gascon succumbs to COVID-19, dies at 57
File photo shows CHR chair Chito Gascon
Boy Santos

MANILA, Philippines (Updated 11:30 a.m.) — Commission on Human Rights chairperson Jose Luis Martin “Chito” Gascon died from COVID-19, his brother confirmed in a post on Sunday. He was 57. 

“Sa dami mong Laban, sa COVID pa tayo na talo!  Love you Kuya!  RIP Chito Gascon,” Miguel Gascon wrote.

In a statement, CHR said Gascon “courageously and steadfastly” upheld the commission’s constitutional mandate. 

“Amid the unrelenting attacks against the institution and to him personally, he was unwavering and unflinching in fighting for the universal values of freedom, truth, and justice that are essential in the pursuit of human rights,” CHR spokesperson Jacqueline de Guia said. 

“He was undaunting in the fight for human rights, rule of law, and democracy out of deep reverence to the equal rights and dignity of all,” she added. 

De Guia said the Commission en banc will continue to function with Commissioner Karen Gomez Dumpit as the officer-in-charge.

‘Light in dark times’

Gascon was appointed the CHR chair in 2015 by late President Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III. 

For more than 30 decades, his work has been focused on human rights, democracy and governance. 

Vice President Leni Robredo called Gascon a “constant light in these dark times.” 

“It is now up to all of us to tend to this light. May we all honor his legacy by following his example of compassion, courage and integrity,” she said. 

Human rights group Karapatan said the country lost a “courageous human rights defender” with his death. 

“Chito’s tenure as chairperson came at a crucial time of massive challenges and worsening attacks on human rights in the Philippines. He and the commission faced various threats for their work in fulfilling their mandate, especially in openly denouncing the Duterte administration’s sham and bloody drug war,” it said. 

Kapatid, an organization of families of political prisoners, said it was devastated by the human rights advocate’s passing. 

“He met with us, listened to us, and sent CHR staff to check on our imprisoned relatives. He was always there for us. We take strength from his legacy of service and compassion,” Kapatid spokesperson Fides Lim said. 

Greenpeace Southeast Asia also called Gascon a “staunch ally in the fight for climate justice.” 


Associate Justice Marvic Leonen also paid tribute to the CHR commissioner whom the magistrate said has “inspired many.”

“Rest in Peace, Chito Gascon. You have stood your ground and inspired many. You will be missed,” Leonen tweeted.

Former Ifugao representative and Liberal Party vice president Teddy Baguilat honored Gascon, who he described as “one of his idols as a young activist.”

“He was our chairman in the UP Student Council and our leader in Nagkaisang Tugon. Although he was too mestizo to look like an aktibista, he really imbibed need for social justice and was our firebrand sa mga rally. RIP Chito,” he tweeted.

“Chair Chito Gascon, rest in power. You fought the good fight. You stood your ground and held fast. You took the fight to the enemy. You were a giant for human rights. The forest is barer because of your fall, but the seeds that you planted will yield fruit,” former Supreme Court spokesperson Theodore Te also tweeted. 

Prior to his appointment to CHR, Gascon served as the youngest member of the Constitutional Commission that drafted the 1987 Constitution and the 8th Philippine Congress during the term of the late president Corazon Aquino.

He was also a member of the Human Rights Victims Claims Board, which is “the body responsible to administer recognition and reparation programs to the Martial Law regime’s victims.”

The human rights advocate, also a political activist, was supposed to head the CHR’s fifth commission until 2022. — with report from Gaea Katreena Cabico


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