MANILA, Philippines – The Consultative Committee (Con-Com) suggesting changes to the Constitution voted to make the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) an independent constitutional commission in the charter they will propose to President Rodrigo Duterte.
The vote was made on Monday, April 16, during an en banc session of the committee, said Con-Com spokesman Ding Generoso in a message to media.
Sixteen members voted in favor and one (ex-military man Ferdinand Bocobo) voted against. Former Senate president Aquilino Pimentel Jr decided to inhibit himself because his daughter, Gwen Pimentel-Gana, is a CHR commissioner.
Here's how Con-Com members voted on status of Commission on Human Rights in charter they will propose to Pres. Duterte: (photo from Con-Com secretariat) pic.twitter.com/RhlTpAhfxy — Pia Ranada (@piaranada) April 16, 2018
What being a constitutional commission means: Under the 1987 Constitution, the CHR is an "independent office" but is not among the 3 constitutional commissions listed in Article IX: Commission on Civil Service, Commission on Elections, and Commission on Audit.
These 3 constitutional commissions are fiscally autonomous, while the CHR, created by a separate provision in the Constitution, has limited fiscal autonomy.
If the CHR becomes a constitutional commission, its finances would be more independent from outside influences.
The elevation, according to a Con-Com press release, would also "strengthen [the CHR's] investigative powers."
No prosecutorial powers: While the CHR can investigate human rights violations, the Con-Com decided it should not be given the power to prosecute anyone for them. This was based on CHR Chairman Chito Gascon's own insights during a presentation to the committee.
Gascon said prosecution is an executive function, not a function of a "watchdog" like the CHR. (READ: Gascon urges Duterte to view CHR as part of 'check and balance system')
Clearer jurisdiction over non-state actors: The Con-Com also voted to clearly state in a new charter that the CHR's mandate and jurisdiction includes non-state or private actors.
The CHR has previously said that its primary function is to check and prevent possible abuses by state actors, including soldiers and police.
It pointed out that victims of criminals already have several institutions to make sure their rights are protected – the police, prosecutors, and the courts, among others.
For this reasoning, House Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez had threatened to allocate a P1,000 budget to the CHR for 2018. He had insisted that the CHR's mandate includes probing even non-state actors.
Indigenous peoples' membership: The Con-Com is also inclined to expand the membership of the CHR to include a representative from indigenous peoples (IPs). Pimentel had reasoned that it is the IPs' environmental and socioeconomic rights that are often affected by both state actions and private actions.
Just a proposal: However, given that the Con-Com is just recommendatory in nature, its proposals may be adopted or rejected by either the Constitutional Assembly or Constitutional Convention that will amend the charter. However, Malacañang said that, being a body created by the President, the Con-Com's proposals will have the support of Duterte's party mates in Congress. – Rappler.com
Pia Ranada covers the Office of the President and Bangsamoro regional issues for Rappler. While helping out with desk duties, she also watches the environment sector and the local government of Quezon City. For tips or story suggestions, you can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.