SONA 2016: CHR welcomes Duterte vow to 'protect human rights'

UPLIFTING HUMAN RIGHTS. Commission on Human Rights Chairperson Chito Gascon says President Rodrigo Duterte's vow to protect human rights should send a signal to law enforcers. File photo by Jodesz Gavilan/Rappler

UPLIFTING HUMAN RIGHTS. Commission on Human Rights Chairperson Chito Gascon says President Rodrigo Duterte's vow to protect human rights should send a signal to law enforcers.

File photo by Jodesz Gavilan/Rappler

MANILA, Philippines – Commission on Human Rights (CHR) Chairperson Chito Gascon welcomed President Rodrigo Duterte's vow to protect human rights of Filipinos during his first State of the Nation Address (SONA) on Monday, July 25.

Gascon told Rappler that it's a big deal that Duterte did not dismiss the importance of human rights.

"Sa kabuuan, mahusay at maganda ang kanyang paninindigan para sa pangangalaga ng karapatang pantao," the CHR chairperson said. "Hindi niya sinabi na walang halaga ang human rights, at malaking bagay po iyan."

(Overall, his commitment to protect human rights is great. He did not say that human rights are not important and that's a big deal.)

During his first SONA, Duterte emphasized that his administration will be "sensitive to the State's obligations to promote, and protect, fulfill the human rights of our citizens, especially the poor, the marginalized and the vulnerable." (FULL TEXT: President Duterte's 1st State of the Nation Address)

The President added that social justice will be pursued, "even as the rule of law shall at all times prevail."

Duterte has previously been in trouble with the CHR for his statements that undermine the rights of different sectors, such as his comments about an Australian woman who was raped and murdered in Davao City in 1989. 

In 2012, the CHR also released a resolution recommending that the Office of the Ombudsman investigate Duterte's "possible administrative and criminal liability" for summary killings attributed to the Davao Death Squad under his watch as Davao City mayor. (READ: Davao Death Squad: What ever happened to the investigations?)

Signal to law enforcers 

Duterte had said in his SONA that "human rights cannot be used as a shield or an excuse to destroy the country," amid criticism on his administration's campaign against drugs.

Gascon, however, emphasized that the role of the CHR is not to hinder anti-crime efforts but to ensure that there is due process.

"Ang pakay ng human rights ay hindi maging balakid sa anti-crime efforts," he said. "Ang amin lang ay dapat lahat ng ginagawa ng gobyerno ay sang-ayon sa dangal at dignidad ng bawat isa at sang-ayon sa due process."

(The role of human rights is not to hinder anti-crime efforts. What we want is to ensure that what the government is doing is in line with each person's dignity and follows due process.)

Duterte, in his speech, vowed that the government would not stop until "the last drug lord, the last financier, and the last pusher have surrendered or [been] put behind bars or below the ground."

Gascon said they will hold on to his words that he will follow the rule of law and protect human rights. 

"I look at this as an opportunity to have a learning moment and an exchange of views on the value and importance of human rights over the long term," Gascon said. "What's important is that he affirmed and in fact, he said that he would uphold and fulfill human rights, that he will respect due process and the rule of law."

"That should be a signal to the police and other security forces who are undertaking their anti-crime efforts that they should do so in accordance with human rights," he added. 

Human Rights Watch (HRW), however, called out Duterte for not addressing the rising number of drug-related killings in his SONA.

The international human rights group is alarmed that instead of speaking against the "sinister increase" of killings only a few weeks into his administration, Duterte "implicity voiced support for such unlawful brutality."

According to data from the Philippine National Police (PNP), at least 293 suspects were killed from July 1 to 24 as part of Duterte's campaign against illegal drugs. The number does not include those killed by unidentified gunmen. – with a report from Camille Elemia /

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.