Commission on Human Rights

FAST FACTS: Leah Armamento, the new Commission on Human rights chairperson

Jodesz Gavilan
FAST FACTS: Leah Armamento, the new Commission on Human rights chairperson

NEW LEADERSHIP. New CHR Chairperson Leah Armamento will lead the embattled commission until May 5, 2022.

Photo from CHR

New CHR Chairperson Leah Tanodra-Armamento, a former commissioner and long-time prosecutor, will lead the embattled CHR during the last few months of the Duterte administration

MANILA, Philippines – A familiar face will lead the embattled Commission on Human Rights (CHR) in the last months of the Duterte administration, where the constitutional body faced perhaps its biggest challenges since being established post-Martial Law. 

It was announced on Wednesday, February 16, that commissioner Leah Tanodra-Armamento had been appointed as CHR chairperson. Her appointment papers were signed by President Rodrigo Duterte on February 14. 

Armamento is set to serve until May 5, 2022, or the unexpired term of her predecessor, Jose Luis Martin “Chito” Gascon, who passed away in October 2021 due to COVID-19.

Prior to her appointment, Armamento was already working at the CHR for almost seven years. She was part of the present en banc who were all appointed in June 2015 under the Aquino administration. 

What else do we need to know about the new CHR chairperson? 

Long-time prosecutor

Armamento is a lawyer and a long-time prosecutor, with her government service spanning almost four decades. She obtained her law degree from the Ateneo de Manila University and was also a fellow of Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government.

In 1986, she joined the Office of the Solicitor General and took on the role of associate solicitor, where she worked on cases involving habeas corpus.

In 1991, Armamento began her 24-year career at the Department of Justice (DOJ), first as state prosecutor and later as a senior state prosecutor.

During this period, she established the Task Force on Agrarian Justice as well as the guidelines on how to handle criminal complaints related to agrarian disputes. She also served as secretariat chairperson of the Philippine National Police Reform Commission.

Armamento become the assistant chief state prosecutor at the DOJ in 2003. In this capacity, she led the legal panel of the Philippine government during the review implementation of the final peace agreement with the Moro National Liberation Front.

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After 19 years of working as prosecutor, Armamento was appointed as DOJ undersecretary in 2010.

She oversaw the drafting of the implementing rules and regulations of Republic Act 10353 or the Anti-Enforced or Involuntary Disappearance Act.

The law, signed by then-president Benigno Aquino III in 2012, sought to make the crime punishable by life imprisonment. It is the first of its kind in Asia and sees enforced disappearance “as a special or separate offense” from kidnapping, serious illegal detention, and/or murder. (READ: What you need to know about enforced disappearances in the Philippines)

Armamento was also part of initiatives and projects involving women, children, and persons with disabilities, seen in her membership in various inter-agency commities and councils. These include, among others, the Committee for the Special Protection of Children and the DOJ Women-In-Development Focal Point for Women and Gender Concerns.

Aside from being part of the National Council on Disability Affairs, she led efforts to place PWD and public assistance desk in prosecution offices across the Philippines.

In 2011, a year after her appointment as DOJ undersecretary, Armamento was one of the four names shortlisted for the position of Ombudsman following the resignation of Merceditas Gutierrez.

During the interviews, she said she was the best candidate for Ombudsman because she “have no political affiliation whatsoever,” according to an ABS-CBN article.

The post, however, eventually went to then-Supreme Court associate justice Conchita Carpio-Morales.

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Crucial months ahead

Armamento first joined the Commission on Human Rights as a member of its en banc, upon the appointment by president Aquino in 2015. As a commissioner, Armamento handled efforts and policies against torture, and ensured proper and dignified treatment of persons deprived of liberties through the Interim National Preventive Mechanism.

The fifth commission was then chaired by Gascon, with commissioners Armamento, Karen Gomez-Dumpit, Gwendolyn Pimentel-Gana, and Roberto Cadiz as members.

It’s during their leadership when the commission faced perhaps its biggest challenge since being established post-Martial Law. CHR, as well as the concept of human rights, was demonized by President Duterte himself as the commission called out the government for its repressive policies.

Duterte called Gascon an idiot and the CHR “putangina (son of a whore)” in May 2016, even before he took his oath of office as president. Duterte’s staunchest allies in the House of Representatives even tried to cut the commission’s annual budget for 2018 to only P1,000.

With Gascon gone, Armamento is set to lead the Philippines’ national human rights institution during the crucial last months of the Duterte administration.

She is expected to push forward investigations into the killings under Duterte’s violent war on drugs, as well as other human rights violations seen in the country marked by a culture of impunity, all while the CHR continues to be sidelined by the Duterte government.

Government data shows that Duterte’s war on drugs has killed around 7,000 people in police operations alone as of December 31, 2021. Human rights groups estimated the number to reach 30,000 to include those killed vigilante-style.

Armamento, together with the rest of the Aquino-appointed commissioners, will step down from CHR on May 5, 2022. – Rappler.com

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Jodesz Gavilan

Jodesz Gavilan is a writer and researcher for Rappler and its investigative arm, Newsbreak. She covers human rights and also hosts the weekly podcast Newsbreak: Beyond the Stories. She joined Rappler in 2014 after obtaining her journalism degree from the University of the Philippines.