Put in the form of a more confronting question, the debate around the point (if any) of having a “Commission on Human Rights” (CHR) becomes a bit more clear…
If the Philippines’ Commission on Human Rights were to disappear tomorrow, would there be any significant consequences to the average Filipino?
I posed the question several times over Twitter and did not get any convincing answers — not even from the CHR Twitter account handler him/herself. The only thing of cosmetic substance that routinely emerges from the Philippine brains trust is the rather lame argument that the 1987 Constitution “mandates” its existence. In essence, the fate of the CHR hangs on to the legitimacy of a piece of paper and not on an actual independent value proposition to the Filipino.
Indeed, it is quite possible that the creation of the “need” for a human rights “watchdog” back in 1987 when the Cory Aquino’s Constitution was ratified was an overcompensation riding on the post-“revolution” euphoria of the time — a time when Filipinos fully embraced, hook line and sinker, the notion that the Philippines failed to prosper because of a lack of “human rights” vigilance. It’s sort of like how a jilted girl suddenly becomes a man-hater on the basis of one unfortunate blip in her lovelife.
Functionally, however, the CHR is no more than an expensive lobby group funded by Filipino taxpayers. Its main tasks collectively amount to no more than issuing commentary about anything and everything to do with “human rights” that gets mentioned by the chatterati and, perhaps, the odd schmoozing with its counterparts in other countries courtesy of taxpayer-funded junkets every now and then. It does not enforce anything nor exercise any administrative power over anyone. A Supreme Court ruling in 1991 confirmed that “the Commission did not possess the power of adjudication, and emphasized that its functions were primarily investigatory.”
The idea that “human rights” will no longer be upheld in the Philippines if the CHR disappears is nonsensical. “Human rights” are enshrined in Article III (a.k.a. the “Bill of Rights”) of Cory’s Constitution — which means Filipinos are already (1) protected from future legislation that may violate its tenets and (2) protected by existing laws enacted to uphold these tenets.
Because there already exists a body of laws built around the Bill of Rights, most “human rights violations” are already likely within scope of existing law enforcement agencies to investigate and prosecute. Indeed, when it comes to “investigating” so-called “human rights violations”, the CHR is effectively just a middleman — essentially a waste of time and space. Indeed it is likely because of this crisis of relevance at a functional or administrative level that the CHR has become hopelessly politicised — and has degenerated to nothing more than an outlet for “human rights” sloganeering today.
The CHR mandate is actually quite presumptuous. It exists under the assumption that, left to their own devices, the entire criminal justice system of the Philippines — the police and the courts — will fail to uphold the spirit of the Bill of Rights in the course of its operation. Furthermore, it exists on the basis of a blanket suspicion that executives and legislators of the Philippine government will effect measures to contravene the Bill of Rights. In short, the CHR’s existence presumes criminal intent in the Philippine government that justifies existence of a “human rights watchdog”. On that basis is propped the lofty “cause” of the CHR as “guardians of the guardians”.
In short, the Commission on Human Rights is not only a redundant organisation, it is a non-sensical one. This is the reason it behaves and positions itself erratically on the political landscape — because it lacks a sensible mission and relies on posturing to maintain a semblance of relevance.
One could actually forgive even some senators who are not clear on what the CHR actually is or what it stands for — because not knowing who or what they are is actually of no consequence to anyone, not even the voters.
Indeed, as far as the key focus of its public relations effort goes, the CHR defines itself primarily around what it is not rather than what it is. As it had tweeted ad infinitum “we are not a law enforcement agency”. It goes further to affirm the blanket assumption that underpins its efforts — that the government, overall, is up to no good…
Ang CHR ay hindi pulis. Ayon sa Konstitusyon, mandato nito na bantayan ang gobyerno sa pagkakataon ng pang-aabuso sa mga karapatang pantao.
Translated to English: “The CHR is not the police. According to the Constitution, its mandate is to guard the government anticipating instances where it seeks to abuse human rights.”
To give credit to whoever composed this tweet, it neatly encapsulates the long-winded message of this article — that, like the venerable 1990s sitcom Seinfeld, the CHR is essentially a comedy show about nothing.