Senator Leila M. de Lima has criticized House Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez for threatening to impeach Commission on Human Rights (CHR) Chairman Chito Gascon for allegedly being biased in fulfilling his mandate.
De Lima, a known human rights defender, said Alvarez’s remark proved his “ignorance” on the Constitutional mandate and functions of CHR because the CHR Chairman and Commissioners are not impeachable officials.
“The CHR is a constitutional body, but not a constitutional commission. The Constitution has not included members of the CHR in its enumeration of who are impeachable officials,” she said in a Dispatch from Crame No. 133.
“Being independent of the Executive Branch as members of an independent constitutional body, the members of the CHR can only be disciplined, suspended, or removed from office by the Ombudsman for cause,” she added.
Unlike CHR, De Lima explained that members of the Commission on Audit, Commission on Elections, and Civil Service Commission can only be legally removed by impeachment.
Alvarez has launched relentless attacks on Gascon and the CHR, which is created under the 1987 Constitution to protect citizens’ rights from abuses by the state.
He has also accused Gascon of being selective of people to protect against abuses and threatened to cut the budget of CHR if the Duterte administration cannot abolish it.
The former justice secretary pointed out that Alvarez’s threat to slash CHR’s budget to zero is useless given that the money to fund the constitutional body does not come from the State. “The annual appropriations intended for the CHR come from the people, to protect themselves from a government bent on violating their human rights,” she said.
To prove that CHR is protective of citizens regardless of social status or position in the government, De Lima assured Alvarez that he can count on Gascon if his rights happen to be violated in the future.
“To Speaker Alvarez: when you are all but stripped of your powers, and all your politician friends and sycophant followers have abandoned you, and your human rights start to be violated — just like those people from the poor neighborhoods herded out of their houses and shot on the head without due process, without justice, without mercy — and you run to Chair Gascon and the CHR for help, make no mistake about it — they will be there to help you. Because Chair Gascon and the CHR know more than anyone in this country that people like you also have human rights,” she said.
This is the latest in a series of tirades against the CHR. Last month, Duterte threatened to abolish the agency following its alleged interference on how government security forces deal with drug-related cases and the declaration of Martial Law in Mindanao.
Gascon however maintained that any effort to abolish the CHR would require constitutional amendments or revisions.
It may be recalled that to strengthen CHR, De Lima earlier filed Senate Bill No. 1230, which seeks to regard the CHR as the national human rights institution and strengthen its powers and functions.