MANILA—The Commission on Human Rights (CHR) faced rough sailing during the Senate’s public debates on the agency’s proposed P863-million budget in 2020.
Allies of President Rodrigo Duterte rose to pose questions, with Sen. Bong Go, who served as special assistant to the President before his Senate bid, echoing the president’s view that the CHR seemed to be favoring criminals more than it does to law enforcers and the victims.
“Napapansin ko lang, mas hinahabol n’yo ang mga law enforcement agencies tuwing may napatay silang kriminal. Even the President of the Philippines ay hinahabol ninyo, binabatikos ninyo ‘pag may namamatay na kriminal. Alin ang mas mahalaga sa inyo - buhay ng inosenteng Pilipino o buhay ng mga kriminal?” asked Go.
Go said the commission should be “fair” in the performance of its mandate and “consider all sides.”
The Senate’s rules had to be suspended to give CHR chair Jose Luis Martin Gascon the chance to respond to the question.
“Sang-ayon po sa mandato ng CHR, tungkulin po niya ay sa lahat... Ang mga biktima po may mga karapatan po sila pero maging mga salarin, mga suspected criminal, sang-ayon po sa ating Bill of Rights, ay meron pong minimum treatment required,” Gascon explained.
Meanwhile, Senate President Vicente Sotto III asked Gascon: “Don’t you believe that when you commit a heinous crime you have given up your right, you have given up your human rights?”
“If there is a crime, the state must move in to punish the criminal but that criminal must be punished, because we are a state and we are a system of laws, that criminal must be punished in accordance with the rule of law. JC: According to our Constitution, all persons are guaranteed rights to due process,” Gascon replied.
“Unfortunately, I do not share your thinking,” Sotto quipped.
Sen. Ronald "Bato" Dela Rosa, Duterte’s former police and corrections bureau chief, noted that the CHR was silent amid public uproar against convicted rapist-killer and ex-Calauan mayor Antonio Sanchez’s reported release on the basis of good conduct time allowance (GCTA).
“There was as public uproar against his (Sanchez’s) release. Gusto ko lang malaman sa CHR kung ano masasabi nila sa uproar ng public: Are they in agreement with the public? Kasi tahimik ang CHR noong lumabas itong isyu na ito,” said Bato.
Sen. Panfilo Lacson, sponsor of the CHR budget, said, “Ang posisyon ng human rights dito 'yong GCTA Law magandang batas pero 'yong mga nag-commit ng heinous crimes talaga dapat kasama sa exception, hindi dapat mag-avail ng GCTA.”
Sen. Francis Tolentino, Duterte's former political affairs adviser, and Sen. Richard Gordon, meantime, raised their observation on other countries and international organizations reportedly “meddling” in Philippine affairs.
“Ang tanong ko po why are other international NGOs are apparently monitoring us? Meron po ba tayong agreement sa kanila?” asked Tolentino.
“We in the Senate we take a very independent view of that, certainly when we are attacked by other legislators we get upset. I just feel we are independent of any other country,” said Gordon.
Tolentino asked the CHR to submit a list of all organizations it “has come in contact with,” while Gordon urged the agency to highlight accomplishments in the current drug war.
After the questioning, the CHR budget was approved, with senators urging the agency to be proactive in the performance of its mandate to show that democracy and the rule of law were upheld in the country.