Constitutional Law & Civil Rights

ConCom votes to raise CHR as Constitutional Body

Date: 16 April 2018; Type: Legal News; Source: Philippine News Agency

MANILA, Apr 16 (PNA) - The Consultative Committee (ConCom) tasked by President Rodrigo R. Duterte to review the 1987 Constitution on Monday voted to raise the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) to the status of an independent constitutional commission sans prosecutorial powers. Sixteen ConCom members voted in favor of raising the proposal with only one member, lawyer and retired general Ferdinand Bocobo, voting against. Former Senate President Aquilino Pimentel Jr. abstained because he has a relative who is a member of the CHR.

The voting came after the ConCom proposed to expand the coverage of the CHR's mandate and jurisdiction to include not just state actors but also non-state or private actors.

In a statement sent to the media, the ConCom said that raising the CHR to the level of a constitutional body would involve strengthening its investigative powers and expanding membership to include representatives from the marginalized sector, indigenous peoples, and environmental advocates, among others.

Former Chief Justice and ConCom chairperson Reynato Puno said that this move is consistent with the body’s desire to expand its coverage to include the environmental and socioeconomic rights, which are to be enshrined in the Bill of Rights, and to include non-state actors as well in its jurisdiction.

This development is also intended to enhance the CHR’s fiscal autonomy.

However, it does not include the grant of prosecutorial powers, which the CHR is not keen on having.

Last April 3, CHR Chairman Chito Gascon, in his presentation before the ConCom body, explained that giving the CHR prosecutorial powers may create complication as the CHR is not an executive body.

Prosecution is one of the primordial executive functions.

“To give the CHR that function may create a complication because if it were to serve as a watchdog on the state duty with respect to human rights and it is given powers to prosecute human rights violations, then the question is who will watch the watchdog,” Gascon was quoted as saying.

Gascon, however, said that the CHR was "supportive of any measure that will ensure that the CHR has a mandate to also look into the violations made by non-state actors.

In a radio interview last April 7, Puno said that the expansion of the mandate of the CHR is expected to correct the misconception that only state actors violate human rights.

Puno explained that the mandate of the CHR is not limited to human-rights violations by agencies or elements of the state or government but should extend to those by non-state actors as well.

“Unang-una, ang pagiisip ng ating mga kababayan ay itong Commission on Human Rights ay ang hinahabol lamang ay yung mga tauhan ng gobyerno na nagba-violate ng mga karapatan ng tao. Ngunit mali po ‘yan e (First, the impression of citizens is that the Commission on Human Rights is going only after government officials who violate human rights. But that’s wrong),” Puno said over DZRH.

The former chief justice said that although the CHR’s main objective was to protect citizens' rights from abuses by the state, it eventually evolved into something greater.

“Totoo na noong una, ang objective ‘nyan ay habulin ang gobyerno dahil ang kaisipan ay to protect against government interference. Pero 'pag nakita n'yo ang evolution, kahit ng political and civil rights, ay hindi lang gobyerno ang nagba-violate nyan – pati non-state actors (It’s true that in the beginning, its objective was to go after the government because the thought is to protect against government interference. But when you look at the evolution, it’s not only the government that violates political and civil rights--even non-state actors do),” Puno explained.

“Kanya ang dapat maging mandato ngayon nyan ay (that’s why its mandate should be to) go after all violators, whether government or non-government actors,” he added.

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