MANILA, Philippines — President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. has not yet filled up the vacancies left by the end-of-term departure of the chair and all four members of the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) in May, but that has not stopped the independent constitutional agency from continuing to perform its duties, with certain limitations.
Its executive director and former spokesperson, Jacqueline de Guia, told the Inquirer on Saturday that it was still performing one of its key functions, the investigation of a possible human rights violation.
The commission was established under the 1987 Constitution as an independent agency to prevent a repeat of the human rights violations and atrocities committed under the dictatorship of Marcos’ father.
De Guia said they were investigating this time the killing of a 19-year-old Grade 9 student Amier Mangcop who was allegedly shot by off-duty police doctor Marvin Rey Pepino at a bar in Davao City on July 2.
“CHR’s independent investigation seeks to help establish the truth amid competing narratives from both sides,” De Guia said in a statement, referring to the claim of the doctor who said the student attacked, which was disputed by Mangcop’s family.
One issue still unresolved was why a police doctor was carrying a firearm while drinking inside a bar, De Guia said.
Also last week, the CHR raised its concern over the “considerable delay” in serving the arrest warrants to the three police officers who were allegedly involved in the killing of Spanish businessman Diego Bello Lafuente, a surfer who was based in Siargao and was accused by authorities of being a drug lord.
De Guia urged the Philippine National Police to “exert all efforts” in locating the officers so that the legal proceedings in the Lafuente case may continue.
She said the CHR would monitor the case as part of its “independent mandate as a national human rights institution to protect and promote the human rights and dignity of all persons in the country.”
De Guia, the CHR “caretaker,” said she would “ensure” that the agency’s operations would remain “smooth and in accordance with our Constitutional mandate.”
“The delivery of services, such as investigations, jail visitations, human rights trainings, and advocacies remain unhampered,” she told the Inquirer in a Viber message.
The CHR continues to function “effectively and efficiently” while awaiting the appointments of its chair and the four commissioners, she added.
The en banc, or the chair and the four commissioners gathered as one, has been vacant since May 5 when the terms of all its five members expired.
“We do look forward, though, to an independent, credible and pluralistic chairperson and commissioners who will lay down the policy and direction of the 6h Commission’s human rights agenda,” De Guia said.
She said that day-to-day operations remained smooth, but with a headless commission, actions on its resolutions on either internal office matters or those related to its tasks would be left hanging.
Former CHR Commissioner Gwendolyn Pimentel-Gana said the agency’s work and programs would continue “even without commissioners at the helm.”
“However, decisions on policy directions, fiscal and administrative matters that need the approval of the en banc and the resolution of cases, among others, will remain pending and at a standstill,” she told the Inquirer.
Gana explained that the absence of a chair and the four commissioners prevents the commission from “fully exercising its mandate to promote, protect and fulfill the rights of Filipinos.”
Show of importance
Loretta Rosales, a former CHR chair, urged Marcos to appoint the commissioners as soon as possible.
“If he doesn’t appoint anyone the soonest, it’s like he doesn’t give any importance to his constitutional duties,” Rosales said.
Rosales cited the Paris Principles and the international treaties involving human rights institutions under which the government was obligated to establish and maintain a national human rights institution.
Carlos Conde, senior researcher for the Asia division of New York-based Human Rights Watch, said the CHR could still function but would be “severely limited in its efficacy.”
“Because it is a commission, decision-making on its key mandates will practically be impossible in my view,” Conde told the Inquirer.
He said it was important to have an en banc to set the tone and the thrust of the CHR. ‘Credible’
“It would be rudderless without an en banc,” Conde said.
He reiterated his earlier call on Mr. Marcos to appoint independent and independent-minded CHR officials with a track record of credible human rights work, who were backed by “credible” human rights groups and committed to the Paris Principles.
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