The problem with the Commission on Human Rights is that it was created out of a Kumbaya moment: people all very giddy after the 1986 mob uprising, with the flattering international attention it wrought.
Yet, to paraphrase the saying: one politics in poetry but governs in prose. And in this case, the realities of governance finally came to a head as far as the CHR is concerned.
To be frank, the CHR got away with its shtick for as long as it did because, after 1986, nobody really cared for it.
Once in a while, the face of the CHR would appear on television to predictably criticize the military, causing most normal sane people to do a mental facepalm.
But that was as far as it goes.
Until this present House of Representatives, with all the subtlety and sophistication of a noisy smoke belching jeepney that is the Pantaleon Alvarez speakership, decided to give the CHR an annual budget of P1,000.
And just like that: the CHR gained instant social media hero-worship.
Two points: First, the House sadly had the constitutional authority to do what it did. And secondly, the chances it will seriously push through the ridiculous P1,000 budget is minimal.
Nevertheless, the episode did cause a serious reexamination of the CHR and its existence.
As to its functions, the CHR’s is pretty humdrum: mostly administrative and information dissemination. Yet, it does have two significant mandates — investigate “all forms of human rights violations involving civil and political rights”, as well as “monitor the Philippine Government’s compliance with international treaty obligations on human rights.”
Not many people realize it but those seemingly innocuous provisions have proven to be truly problematic.
The first is scope: when you’re talking of civil and political rights, a quite cursory glance reveals implicit referral to the Bill of Rights.
But then, the Constitution says that international law forms part of the laws of the land, potentially expanding the concept of rights beyond those reflected in the Bill: the UN Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Thus, also included: the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights; among others.
That’s a lot of rights.
Arguably, that could include the “right to work,” right of access to the Internet, the right to housing, to education, the right to food and water, clothing, and standard of living.
Then, there are those “rights” that the “progressive” left is forcibly ramming down our collective throats: abortion, contraceptives, divorce, same sex “marriage,” assisted suicide, sexual orientation/gender identity rights. And on and on it goes.
As I said, that’s a lot of rights.
And we expect the CHR to actually comply with its mandate?
So it did what any government agency not in the glare of the public spotlight involving a topic that many people do not understand would do: it chose to be selective in doing its job.
Thus, it focused only on those rights that are sure to win media (later social media) and activist applause: controversial killings, homosexual advocacies, the right to strike and rally, and limited itself to focusing only on violations by the government. Which actually meant targeting the most disciplined and perhaps conservative (i.e., the most non-liberal/progressive) government institution of all: the military.
But as other commentators have correctly pointed out, nothing in the CHR’s actual terms of reference (i.e., the Constitution and EO 163, s.1987) stated that it should exclusively handle only violations by government officials and employees.
Thus, in actuality, employees whose civil and political rights were violated by a company or by a small business, or a kasambahay vis-a-vis a family employer, or a student vis-à-vis a university, should have the CHR at its disposal.
But also this: if the Catholic church found its religious rights and freedom of expression being violated, the CHR must help it. If a businessman finds his property or commercial expansion rights hindered, the CHR must give assistance.
Supreme Court Justice Edgardo Paras was completely correct in his admonition to the CHR (in his concurring opinion in Cariño vs. CHR, 1991) that its functions are “not only with the human rights of the accused but also the human rights of the victims and the latter’s families; not only with the human rights of those who rise against the government but also those who defend the same; not only the human rights of striking laborers but also those who as a consequence of strikes may be laid off because of financial repercussions.”
To sum, the problem boils down to two things: an appreciation of human rights detached from any sense of personal duty and the natural law, thus leading to self-entitlement and a misapprehension of rights.
And second is creating a government agency, the CHR, to perform a function that essentially means implementing the entire Constitution, a job already delegated by the people to the three equal branches of government.
Jemy Gatdula is the International Economic Law lecturer for the University of Asia and the Pacific School of Law and Governance, and Of Counsel for the Policarpio and Acorda Law Office.