Gascon urges Duterte to view CHR as part of 'check and balance system'

MANILA, Philippines – While he described the latest insults against him as "unfortunate," Commission on Human Rights (CHR) Chairperson Chito Gascon still hopes that President Rodrigo Duterte will eventually see the commission as part of the "check and balance system" in the country.

"I hope he might choose to withdraw them (his insults) in order to have a common civic space," Gascon told Rappler in a text message on Monday, September 18.

"If there may be differences between the positions we take in CHR and that taken by the executive branch, we hope this be viewed as part of the check and balance system of Philippine democracy," he added.

Duterte on Saturday, September 16, accused Gascon of politicizing the commission instead of helping address the important issues the country is facing. The President even tagged the CHR chairperson as a "pedophile" for focusing on the deaths of teenagers.

"Why are you fond of teenagers? Now I wonder: are you gay, or a pedophile?" Duterte said. "You are so fixated with the death of a young male, that's why I doubt: pedophile kang gago ka (you're a pedophile, you fool)."

The President's latest tirade came after the Philippines' national human rights institution slammed the recent killings of minors at the hands of police, particularly the cases of Kian delos Santos and Carl Arnaiz.

Delos Santos, 17, and Arnaiz, 19, were killed by Caloocan City policemen just two days apart. They are among at least 54 minors killed in Duterte's war on drugs, according to latest data from the Children's Legal Rights and Development Center. (READ: LIST: Minors, college students killed in Duterte's drug war)

Just doing his job

Gascon, however, insisted that he has never taken advantage of his position to suit political agenda.

"I have not been involved in any partisan activity since being tasked to perform human rights programs first with the Human Rights Victims' Claims Board in 2014 and assuming my leadership of the CHR," he said.

"I have not nor will not participate in any destabilization of the State or any other action that would undermine our democratic system," he added.

Created through the 1987 Philippine Constitution, the CHR is tasked to investigate human rights violations perpetrated by state actors. (READ: Hate human rights? They protect freedoms you enjoy) 

Gascon had expressed disappointment when Duterte did not allow authorities to release important documents regarding deaths under the war on drugs. This move was previously agreed upon by both the CHR and the Philippine National Police

"We still hope to establish a workable mechanism for our respective agencies to cooperate in uncovering the truth about the rising number of deaths in order to assist in securing justice for all victims by ultimately holding all perpetrators of human rights violations to account," Gascon said.

Focus on real issues

In a statement, CHR spokesperson Jacqueline de Guia said Duterte's latest insults distract the public from the real issues in his war on drugs.

"Remarks such as these are unhelpful and deviate the attention of the public from the critical human rights issues in the country. Further, these are remarks that do not show respect for dignity of others," De Guia said.

The CHR has been the target of threats and insults by Duterte and his allies amid its call for an end to drug-related killings – more than 3,500 in police operations alone. (READ: 'Demonizing' human rights in the first year of Duterte) 

On September 12, the House of Representatives, acting on the motion by SAGIP Representative Rodante Marcoleta, voted to give the commission a measly budget of P1,000 for 2018. 

This move has been widely criticized by other government officials and the public.

House Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez, said to be the driving force behind the decision, called on Gascon to resign if the CHR wants a bigger budget. Alvarez claimed the commission is not doing its job.

De Guia, however, said Filipinos must understand that the concerns of the CHR and other human rights organizations regarding the rise in killings are valid.

"The public must understand that the death of children concerns us all as they are especially vulnerable and need state protection," she added. "These are our own children and the future of our country." – Rappler.com

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.

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