Watchdogs: Selection of CHR appointees lacked transparency, consultation

Gaea Katreena Cabico - Philstar.com
Watchdogs: Selection of CHR appointees lacked transparency, consultation
This 2021 handout photo shows community leaders and volunteers in the Save San Roque alliance outside the Commission on Human Rights office in Quezon City.
Save San Roque handout photo

MANILA, Philippines — Appointments to vacancies at the Commission on Human Rights did not include consultations with civil society groups, rights watchdogs said, adding the process of picking commissioners was not transparent.

Former Malacañang deputy secretary Richard Palpal-latoc is the new chairperson of the CHR while former Ombudsman investigator Beda Espres has been named a commissioner. CHR needs three more commissioners.

As rights groups called on the new CHR appointees to show independence and transparency in investigating violations involving civil and political rights, they also noted the lack of transparency and consultation in how they were selected. 

Under the Paris Principles, the composition of a national human rights institution and the appointment of its members should ensure the pluralist representation of the social forces involved in the protection and promotion of human rights. Ideally, commissions should have representation from NGOs working in human rights, from trade unions and from other civil society orgaizations.

The Paris Principles are international standards that frame and guide the work of NHRIs like the CHR.

Karapatan secretary general Kristina Palabay said "many, if not all, in our network" were excluded from consultations on the appointments.

"The lack of transparency and consultative character of the selection process of the CHR is a policy statement by itself on how administration views human rights and human rights defenders, its appreciation on enabling environment for civic and democratic space, and its commitment to international human rights standards such as the Paris Principles on national human rights institutions," Palabay told Philstar.com Monday.

RELATED: Task force: Bill to protect human rights defenders unnecessary, contrary to law

CSO participation

In June, New York-based watchdog Human Rights Watch suggested that President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. convene an independent search committee to vet candidates and come up with a shortlist for appointees. It also urged the government to encourage participation from civil society organizations so they could suggest candidates representing vulnerable sectors.

HRW senior researcher Carlos Conde stressed that consultation is "absolutely critical" because CSOs play an equally critical role in promoting human rights and in ensuring accountability for abuses. CSOs also serve as a check on government and on the commission.

"CSOs are a pillar in the human rights movement, especially since we’ve seen how the government can often be resistant to accountability, as in the case of the Duterte administration," Conde told Philstar.com.

"If the new admin cannot see the role of CSOs and transparency in all this, then CSOs cannot be faulted for thinking that it is not serious about human rights," he said, adding the administration could also misuse the commission or render it ineffective.

READ: New CHR chair's lack of experience in human rights work raises doubts

Lack of credibility, experience

When the appointment of Palpal-latoc was announced last week, rights groups raised concerns over his lack of background in human rights work. Palpal-Latoc is one of the partners of the Rodriguez Esquivel Palpal-Latoc law firm. Marcos’ chief of staff and former executive secretary Vic Rodriguez is also a partner at the law firm.

CHR was created as a response to the atrocities committed during Martial Law, which Marcos and his clan have yet to acknowledge.

"A CHR therefore that is filled with people who not only have the credibility and experience in human rights but are also seen as loyal to President Marcos will become a problem," Conde said.

Palpal-Latoc said last week that he notes the "heightened vigilance" of rights advocates on the recent CHR appointments.

He acknowledged the concerns and said his tenure at CHR "will be marked by utmost dedication, unquestionable probity, and speedy disposition of cases in the interest of upholding the rights of all."

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