Sen. Leila M. de Lima has pushed for the passage of the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) Charter that would grant it its status as the country’s premier human rights body vested with powers to respond in real-time to human rights violations against Filipinos here and abroad.
De Lima has filed Senate Bill No. 1230 seeking to regard the CHR as the national human rights institution and strengthen its powers and functions, as the Philippines joins the international community in the annual observance of the National Human Right Day on Dec. 1o.
“Over the years, CHR has proven its exemplary work as a cornerstone of human rights in the country. It has served countless Filipinos through its programs and services, and has address institutional challenges in terms of resources and extent of its mandate,” she said.
The former justice secretary, however, pointed out that there is a need to expand the mandate of the CHR not only to investigate human rights violations and protect witnesses but also, most importantly, to become a partner of the three branches of the government.
“CHR is a partner of security forces in human rights education, the legislative department in rights-based approach to law-making, the judiciary in evolving breaches of human security through enforced disappearance, and intermediary between government and civil society,” she said.
From 2008 to 2010, De Lima led the CHR in becoming the premier human right body, addressing several cases of human rights violations, the so-called death squads in the cities of Davao and Tagum, including extrajudicial killings, enforced disappearances, among others.
It was also during her stint as CHR chairperson when she received the Metrobank Foundation Professorial Chair for Public Service and Governance and the Excellent Public Servant Award, Defender of People’s Rights, and “Agent of Change” Award in 2010, among many others.
Since its creation in 1987, the CHR has been operating without a Charter despite recommendations during local and international forums strengthening its functions and structure in compliance with the Paris Principles on national institutions for the promotion of human rights.
“To empower the CHR as an institution through a Charter will reinforce the recommendations and recognition of its contribution to safeguard fundamental rights and freedoms and serve the higher purpose of institutionalization of treaty commitments,” she said.
Among the salient features of the measure include the following:
- Perform its Gender and Child Ombud roles to promote and safeguard the rights, interests, and welfare of the marginalized and vulnerable sectors, notably children and women;
- Mandatory and continuing human rights education program for the military, police, and other law enforcement agencies, as well as public school teachers;
- Designation of human rights attaches in select Philippine embassies and consulates to address cases of human rights violations committed against overseas Filipino workers (OFWs);
- Grant of power to issue legal protective measures, such as writs of injunction, restraining orders, and cease and desist orders, without waiting for the court to exercise jurisdiction over the matter;
- Institutionalization of witness protection program to provide safety to witnesses as well as human rights defenders under threat and safeguard the integrity of evidence;
- Establishment of witness auxiliary protection service to provide security, shelter, relocation and livelihood assistance to witnesses and their families;
- Fiscal autonomy to allow it to operate independently of the Executive Branch to ensure the unhampered application and protection of human rights principles under any and all possible circumstances;
- Establishment of Human Rights Protection Offices in 18 regions and provinces;