CHR: ‘We are not the opposition but the gov’t conscience’

MANILA – The Commission on Human Rights (CHR) said the agency is not meant to oppose the administration of Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte but instead, serves as the government’s conscience.

In a television interview last week, Commissioner Gwen Pimentel-Gana maintained that the agency does not have any agenda of ousting Duterte despite being critical of the government’s so-called war on drugs.

“Definitely, we have no agenda on that,” Gana told ANC’s Headstart last week.

Earlier, Duterte claimed that CHR Chair Chito Gascon was “for the opposition” who wants him out of the presidency.

But Gana refuted the chief executive’s allegations, saying, “We are not the opposition. As a matter of fact, we are here to help the government to protect and to promote the rights of every individual.”

“We are, in simple terms, like a conscience of the government,” she added.

Gana also belied the accusation of Interior Assistant Secretary Epimaco Densing III that Gascon was using CHR to propagate the interest of the Liberal Party (LP) and to promote their supposed “advocacy to bring down the presidency.”

But the commissioner said he has “not seen any overt act” to point that Gascon was conniving with the opposition party.

She further noted that the agency is mandated to protect the rights of victims of crimes, and to monitor any alleged abuse by government agencies.

“Agencies of government are duty-bearers in a sense that they are obliged and mandated to render services to the people, and people are rights-holders,” Gana said.

She further noted that as rights-holders, CHR “can demand from government to fulfill the rights that we have in order to live in a just and humane society.”

Earlier this month, the House of Representatives voted to cut the CHR’s budget for 2018 to a measly P1,000 amid the agency’s criticism against deaths and abuses linked with the government’s crackdown on narcotics.

The CHR’s budget still has to go through the Senate and the bicameral conference committee before being finalized and signed by Duterte. Several senators have expressed their commitment to fight for the restoration of the around P600 million budget of the agency.

On Wednesday, Sept. 18, the House of Representatives restored the agency’s budget.

Davao City Rep. Karlo Nograles confirmed that the restoration of budget would be reflect in the third reading approval of the proposed P3.767 trillion national budget for 2018.

Probe death of UST student

In a separate statement, CHR-National Capital Region (NCR) investigator Jolly Torres said the agency “makes no distinction” on their mandate to protect and promote human rights.

On Tuesday, September 19, Torres said the CHR will also investigate the case of a 22-year-old University of Santo Tomas (UST) law student who died after an alleged fraternity hazing.

“Ang concept naman ng CHR ay universal (The concept of CHR is universal). We make no distinction as to who the victim is,” Torres told reporters after securing copies of police reports on the case at the Manila Police District (MPD) headquarters in Ermita.

“Sa case na ‘to, since it is a case of hazing ay minarapat na naming imbestigahan (This case, since it is a case of hazing, we deigned to investigate it), contrary [to] general notion [that] we only investigate violations committed by the state,” he added.

Freshman Horacio Tomas Castillo III was found dead on a sidewalk by a certain John Paul Solano at the corner of H. Lopez Boulevard and Infanta Street in Balut, Tondo on Sunday morning, September 17.

According to the victim’s parents, their son asked their permission to attend a welcome ceremony of the Aegis Juris, a fraternity based in the UST Faculty of Civil Law, on Saturday night, September 16.

They said their son assured them that the frat assured them that the frat is anti-hazing and that the weekend event will only overnight drinking session.

They only learned of the incident around 1 a.m. Monday, September 18, after the mother received a text message that their son was at Chinese General Hospital.

In a statement, the university condemned the death of the freshman student.

“We condemn in no uncertain terms hazing in any form or manner. Violence has no place in an academic institution, particularly in our University that values and promotes charity and compassion,” UST said.

“We will leave no stones unturned to ensure that the perpetrators be meted the appropriate sanctions and brought to justice,” it added.

The frat linked with Castillo’s death also vowed to coordinate with the authorities in their investigation.

“The fraternity extends its condolences to the bereaved family of Horacio at these very trying times. Rest assured that the fraternity will extend its utmost cooperation in the investigation of this unfortunate incident,” Aegis Juris said in a statement.

Apart from the MPD and the CHR, the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) is also conducting a separate investigation into the death of Castillo.

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