Rights defenders urge new CHR officials to uphold independence

Groups urged the new appointees at the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) to uphold the mandate of the commission and maintain its independence, probity and transparency.

Following President Ferdinand Marcos Jr.’s appointment of Atty. Richard Palpallatoc as new chairperson and Atty. Beda Epres as commissioner for full six-year terms, human rights group Karapatan and Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan) said the new officers should ensure that the commission would continue to conduct independent investigations on reported human rights violations.

“[The CHR should] provide prompt, responsive, accessible and excellent public service for the promotion and protection of human rights,” Karapatan secretary general Cristina Palabay said in a statement.

“In particular, we expect members of the new commission en banc to address the recommendations by the previous commission during its public inquiry on the attacks and challenges against human rights defenders and its investigations in the drug war,” Palabay added.

In a separate statement, Bayan secretary general Renato Reyes Jr. called on chairperson Palpallatoc to show independence despite close links with Presidential Chief of Staff and former executive secretary Vic Rodriguez.

Palpallatoc was formerly deputy executive secretary under Rodriguez and was also his former law partner.

“We hope that despite his (Palpallatoc) previous proximity to the halls of power as a Palace official, he will maintain the CHR’s independence from Malacanang,” Reyes said.

After two months in power, the Marcos administration finally filled up the two vacant positions at the CHR, a constitutional body tasked to protect citizens from human rights violations, particularly by State forces.

In a radio interview, Palpallatoc said he applied for the position because he wants to give particular attention to the rights of children, women and other marginalized sectors.

Prior to his new appointment, Epres for his part was a career official and investigator of the Office of the Ombudsman.

Atty. Jose Luis Martin Gascon, the last CHR chairperson, died in office in October 2021 while several commissioners have served their full terms this year.

The Rodrigo Duterte administration has deferred its appointment of replacements, choosing to let the incoming government to make the appointments.

‘Be like Diokno, de Lima and Gascon’

Reyes said that the new CHR chairperson can emulate some of his predecessors like Jose W. Diokno, Leila de Lima and Chito Gascon.

“The CHR is important amid efforts to hold the previous regime accountable before the ICC (International Criminal Court) for the failed drug war. There is also the upcoming Universal Periodic Review where the rights record of the Philippines will be scrutinized by the members of the UN Human Rights Council. There are also many human rights complaints by civil society groups that require the response of the CHR,” Reyes also pointed out.

Palabay for her part “strongly remind(s) the new appointees of the continuing immense challenges of upholding truth, justice and accountability for the thousands of victims of human rights violations during the Ferdinand Marcos Sr.’s dictatorial rule, the very reason why the CHR was created by the 1986 Philippine Constitution.

Palabay also noted the lack of an open, transparent and independent process in the process of appointing the new CHR officials.

Both Bayan and Karapatan said they look forward to holding a dialogue with the new officials on the state of human rights in the country.

“[W]e will continue to engage with the incoming new members of the Commission especially in pursuing justice and accountability of the previous Duterte administration and in the continuing defense of people’s rights, welfare and dignity,” Palabay said. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)