Aquino: PH 'needs' CHR to protect human rights

MANILA, Philippines – Former president Benigno Aquino III opposed calls to abolish the Commission on Human Rights (CHR), saying the agency is needed to ensure rights of citizens.

For Aquino, the CHR has not yet achieved its full mandate. He said it is always necessary to protect human rights, especially in an imperfect society such as the Philippines.

The CHR is a constitutional body tasked to investigate allegations of human rights abuses by state actors such as the military or police. It is not under any branch of government and can only be abolished by changing the provisions that created it in the 1987 Constitution.

"Hindi pa natin masasabi na nasagad [na] ng CHR 'yung kanyang dapat trabaho at habang buhay ang tao, at 'yung pangangailangan na pangalagaan ang karapatan ng pantao, eh pwede ba natin buwagin ang isang ahensya na siyang nangangalaga nito?" Aquino told reporters on Tuesday, August 1, during the commemoration of the 8th death anniversary of his mother, former president Corazon Aquino.

(We still cannot say that the CHR has fully achieved its work, and as long as there are humans, there is a need to protect their rights. Can we abolish the agency tasked to protect human rights?)

"Hangga't 'di natin naaabot ang perpektong lipunan, palagay ko may pangangailangan sa Commission on Human Rights," Aquino added. (As long as we are not yet a perfect society, I believe there is a need for the Commission on Human Rights.)

No less than his successor, President Rodrigo Duterte, moved for the abolition of the agency that has repeatedly criticized his bloody drug war. (READ: No more CHR? No problem, say Lorenzana, Dela Rosa)

CHR Chairperson Jose Luis Martin "Chito" Gascon earlier said Duterte's pronouncements "remove any doubt regarding the attitude his administration will take towards respecting the human rights guarantees enshrined in the Constitution."

It was Aquino who appointed Gascon, a member of the Liberal Party, as CHR chairperson in 2015.

PCGG to be abolished, too?

Aquino was also asked to react to the Duterte administration's plan to abolish the Presidential Commission on Good Government (PCGG), the main agency tasked to hunt down the ill-gotten wealth of dictator Ferdinand Marcos and his family.

Aquino recalled that during his time, the PCGG continued to recover assets tied to the Marcoses. It is difficult to do so, he said, as there might be no single living person that knows its whereabouts.

"Natapos na ba trabaho nila? Nung panahon ko meron pa ring mga nare-recover, meron pa rin mga hinahabol. Hindi pa natatapos dahil sa totoo lang, 'di tayo sigurado kung may iisang tao na buhay na alam itong mga nire-recover na ito. Baka 'pag pinagsama mo 'yung alam ng kung sinu-sino, do'n baka mabuo," he said.

(Have they finished their task? During my time, there were still assets being recovered, being chased after. It was not finished because in reality, we are not sure if there is one single person alive who knows about these assets. Maybe if you gather information from various people, that's the time you can collect all.)

The PCGG was established by his mother in 1986 after Marcos was overthrown. (READ: What you should know about the agency hunting Marcos' ill-gotten wealth)

Budget Secretary Benjamin Diokno earlier said the PCGG can already be abolished as it is not productive. The PCGG, however, attributed the delays to the "slow grind of the justice system, coupled by dilatory tactics employed by the defendants," specifically the Marcoses.

Malacañang has said that the Office of the Solicitor General (OSG) could take on the functions of the agency. Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez has filed a bill seeking to put the PCGG under the OSG headed by Solicitor General Jose Calida, a known Marcos supporter. (READ: In charge of recovering ill-gotten wealth? But Calida is pro-Marcos) – Rappler.com

Camille Elemia

Camille Elemia is Rappler's lead reporter for media, disinformation issues, and democracy. She won an ILO award in 2017. She received the prestigious Fulbright-Hubert Humphrey fellowship in 2019, allowing her to further study media and politics in the US. Email camille.elemia@rappler.com

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