There is a palpable shift in government today. In a span of just a few months, democracy as we know it is facing its slow demise. Political opposition is vilified. Those not loyal to the powers that be face the threat of being stripped away of their authority. The latest? The farcical 1,000 budget for the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) for 2018 as voted by the Lower House, 119-32.
The motive is clear. Remove checks and balances and everything can be expedited no matter the cost. This comes in the heels of the successive deaths of minors at the hands of authorities. As the public cries for justice, our representatives decide to shortchange us and slap us with a thumbs-down to the very agency that provides sanctuary for victims of human rights abuses. A sad, sad day.
To make matters worse, the convoluted reason behind such a move puts the blame solely on CHR for not doing its job. But what is its job exactly? Do we even understand the agency’s purpose? Here’s a general picture.
The CHR does not go against common criminals. That is the job of the PNP. What CHR does is to provide protection from abusive state agents. When people in power commit atrocities, CHR steps in. By saying that CHR fails at its job because it does not condemn abuses by criminals and terrorist groups is a misunderstanding of the agency’s mandate. That is not its primary task. Its job is to protect us from government abuses and monitor the Philippine Government’s compliance with international treaty obligations on human rights.
CHR certainly does not sit well with the current administration since it has been calling authorities to task in questionable engagements that have resulted to numerous deaths. Duterte, as early as July of this year, had already been alluding to the agency’s abolition. He also previously labelled CHR Chairman Chito Gascon as a supporter of the “yellows.”
Our only hope is the Senate. Several senators have gone public with their opposition to the decision of the Lower House. How it will ultimately pan out, we have to wait and see.
At the end of the day, we question: What direction are we really heading to? When a dictator has been branded a hero by virtue of his burial in the Libingan ng mga Bayani; when there is proliferation of propaganda-like fake news friendly to one side; when agencies like CHR are in danger of being abolished; when opposition is blatantly maligned, I shudder at the thought of the most possible answer to this nagging question.