The Philippine Commission on Human Rights (CHR) is suffering from a bad reputation no thanks to the agency’s Chairman Chito Gascon. Gascon is a known staunch ally of the Liberal Party and he can’t even hide his partisanship or pretend to be impartial while doing his job. Yellow is still his favourite colour. As a result, he is dragging the agency down with him.
A lot of people, including members of Congress have noted that Gascon is using the resources of the CHR to undermine President Rodrigo Duterte instead of focusing on its mission. In other words, it seems the agency has become a mouthpiece of the Opposition. That is likely to be the main reason why Congress reduced its proposed PhP678 million budget to a measly PhP1,000.00 for 2018. In fact, House Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez had asked Gascon to resign to restore the agency’s good status.
Members of the taxpaying public are now agreeing with the idea that the CHR should just be abolished especially after finding out that Gascon approved the funding of UN Special Rapporteur Agnes Callamard’s air fare and five-star accommodation just to attend the agency’s anniversary event. Of course the ultimate agenda was to give Callamard an “exclusive” one sided briefing on the status of Duterte’s war on drugs. The Philippine National Police was not even given a chance to speak to her to give their side. Callamard went on to issue statements downplaying the effects of illegal drugs in an attempt to make Duterte’s policy look like it was over the top.
Gascon does come across as arrogant. He probably sees himself as a moral crusader and thinks he is above everyone else. He is a very typical Liberal Party supporter who thinks he has a monopoly on being right. He would have gotten more respect if he was as vocal against BS Aquino government’s human rights abuses as he is today against the Duterte government. Some people have highlighted how quiet Gascon was when the Kidapawan farmers protesting against the government’s lack of help during a prolonged drought in North Cotabato in 2016 were shot at by police resulting in the deaths of two people and dozens injured. There were also other similar cases of abuse in the past that were not “looked into” by the CHR like the Lumad killings in Mindanao perpetrated by members of the military in 2015. And let’s not forget how the CHR did not pursue a case against the Aquinos when farmers were massacred in 2004 at the Hacienda Luisita, the estate in Tarlac “owned” by the family. Granted, Gascon was not the Chairman of the agency in 2004, but the fact that he is friends with the Aquinos could mean justice for the farmers will remain elusive.
Indeed, the CHR seems to be useful to the Opposition, but useless to the victims of human rights abuses perpetrated by Gascon’s allies. This is another piece of evidence that patronage politics is a roadblock to Philippine progress. No wonder a lot of Filipinos do not believe in the justice system.
The CHR has been around for more than 30 years. It was created via the 1987 Philippine Constitution and tasked to investigate allegations of human rights abuses by state actors such as the military or police. Sadly, in its three decades’ existence, it has not helped keep abuse committed by the military and police to a minimum. That’s probably because each Chairman assigned to the agency seem to look away when the politician in power they are allied with are the ones committing the abuse.
Until the person in charge of the CHR learn to distance himself from his allies in government and become true to his mandate, the CHR will remain an agency that is only good on paper where it says what the agency’s role should be.
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