A com­mis­sion born of de­cep­tion, op­por­tunism and eva­sion of Congress

Manila Times - - FRONT PAGE - BY YEN MAKABENTA First Read Colum­nist

THE birth of the Com­mis­sion on Hu­man Rights (CHR) on May 5, 1987 was in many re­spects a pre­ma­ture de­liv­ery. The baby was pre­ma­ture be­cause some peo­ple - lish­ment of the com­mis­sion by un­con­sti­tu­tional means. The ef­forts there­after to hide the cir­cum­stances of the CHR’s birth, and mask its un­con­sti­tu­tional foun­da­tions per­verted the pro­mo­tion and pro­tec­tion of hu­man rights in the Philip­pines.

While the forced cre­ation of the CHR of the 1987 Char­ter, it para­dox­i­cally doomed the hu­man rights project to a shad­owy ex­is­tence, and per­sis­tent vul­ner­a­bil­ity to pa­tron­age pol­i­tics and in­ves­tiga­tive jour­nal­ism.

In the sub­se­quent de­bates over hu­man rights poli­cies, nowhere more pro­nounced than they are now, the na­tion de­vel­oped “hu­man rights fa­tigue”, be­cause the truth about the birth of CHR has never been told; its murky be­gin­nings and ques­tion­able

ques­tion­able foun­da­tions con­tinue to hide the facts.

Here are some of the facts.

His­tory tells an ig­no­ble story

On Fe­bru­ary 2, 1987, the Filipino of the Repub­lic of the Philip­pines. then Pres­i­dent Co­ra­zon C. Aquino ceased to be a revo­lu­tion­ary pres­i­dent who wielded both the leg­isla­tive and ex­ec­u­tive pow­ers of the Philip­pine gov­ern­ment. From that day on­ward, Aquino could no longer cre­ate gov­ern­ment agen­cies and ap­pro­pri­ate pub­lic funds at will.

there oc­curred on Jan­uary 22, 1987, a tragic chap­ter in the life of the Co­ra­zon Aquino pres­i­dency – the Men­di­ola mas­sacre in front of Mala­cañang Palace, wherein 18 farm­ers were killed by state forces.

The mas­sacre, also called Black Thurs­day by some in the me­dia, oc­curred when state se­cu­rity forces vi­o­lently dis­persed a farm­ers’ march on the Palace in protest of gov­ern­ment in­ac­tion on land re­form. It is claimed that an­tiriot per­son­nel on un­armed pro­test­ers killing 18 peo­ple and in­jur­ing 101 oth­ers.

Pres­i­dent Aquino formed the Cit­i­zen’s Men­di­ola Com­mis­sion (CMC) to in­ves­ti­gate the in­ci­dent. The com­mis marchers, and rec­om­mended in­stead fur­ther in­ves­ti­ga­tion by the Na­tional Bureau of In­ves­ti­ga­tion (NBI).

In protest over the Men­di­ola killings, the Chair­man and Vice Chair­man, re­spec­tively, of the Pres­i­den­tial Com­mit­tee on Hu­man Rights, Jose Dio­kno and J.B.L. Reyes, re­signed.

On May5,1987, six days be­fore the un­der the 1987 Con­sti­tu­tion on May

11,1987, Pres­i­dent Aquino is­sued Ex­ec­u­tive Or­der 163 to for­mally es­tab­lish the Com­mis­sion on Hu­man Rights, and abol­ish the Pres­i­den­tial Com­mit­tee on Hu­man Rights.

Sig­nif­i­cantly, Aquino cre­ated the CHR barely two months be­fore the new congress (the eighth Congress) was sched­uled to con­vene on July27,1987.

The de­ci­sion to pre­empt and by­pass Congress was de­lib­er­ate and cal­cu­lated. The Aquino ad­min­is­tra­tion did not want the leg­is­la­ture to scru­ti­nize the prospec­tive law, and to have a hand in the cre­ation of the hu­man rights com­mis­sion.

Cer­tain par­ties wanted to­tal lib­erty to write the pro­vi­sions of the en­abling act. Cer­tain par­ties also had their eye on the choice posts in the com­mis­sion.

There was anx­i­ety in the ad­min­is­tra­tion that the hu­man rights body might fo­cus its in­ves­tiga­tive au­thor­ity on un­rav­el­ing the truth of what hap­pened in Men­di­ola. The main con­clu­sion was that the less Congress med­dled in the cre­ation of the com­mis­sion the bet­ter for the ad­min­is­tra­tion.

Th­ese sour be­gin­nings con­demned the CHR to its check­ered his­tory: weak statu­tory foun­da­tion, avoid­ance of mas­sacres and vi­o­lent in­ci­dents, ap­point­ment of com­mis­sion chairs - bership in the Yel­low Cult, and com­mis­sion­ers who were well-con­nected

The loud as­sur­ance of Se­nate Pres­i­dent Koko Pi­mentel that the CHR will get its bud­get re­stored is no ac­ci­dent. He is the brother of a CHR Gas­con’s de­par­ture.

Ex­ec­u­tive Or­der 163

The glar­ing fact that proves the lie be­hind the CHR is Ex­ec­u­tive Or­der 163, which is de­cep­tively and wrong­fully pa­raded as the en­abling law be­hind the com­mis­sion.

I have be­fore me and in my hands the text of Pres­i­dent Aquino’s ex­ec­u­tive or­der. It is a re­mark­able doc­u­ment of self-deal­ing and usurpa­tion of con­gres­sional au­thor­ity.

The EO bears the im­pos­ing ti­tle, Ex­ec­u­tive Or­der No. 163, “Declar­ing the ef­fec­tiv­ity of the cre­ation of the Com­mis­sion on Hu­man Rights as pro­vided for in the 1987 Con­sti­tu­tion, pro­vid­ing guide­lines for the op­er­a­tion thereof, and for other pur­poses.” It de­clares: WHEREAS, the 1987 Con­sti­tu­tion

WHEREAS, the 1987 Con­sti­tu­tion has cre­ated an in­de­pen­dent

NOW, THERE­FORE, I, CO­RA­ZON C. AQUINO, Pres­i­dent of the Philip­pines, by virtue of the pow­ers vested in me by the Con­sti­tu­tion, do hereby or­der:

“Sec­tion1: The Com­mis­sion on Hu­man Rights as pro­vided un­der Ar­ti­cle XIII of the 1987 Con­sti­tu­tion is hereby de­clared to be now in ex­is­tence.”

The tone is like that of God say­ing: ”Let there be light.”

The or­der enu­mer­ates the pow­ers and func­tions en­vi­sioned for the com­mis­sion by the char­ter, and re­cites them ver­ba­tim:

But the or­der does more that. It adds items and mat­ters that can only be­long to Congress’ au­thor power to wield it.

Aquino on her own vo­li­tion de­cides to call the CHR “a con­sti­tu­tional of­fice”, sug­gest­ing that it is like the three con­sti­tu­tional com­mis­sions ex­plic­itly cited in the Char­ter: the Civil Ser­vice Com­mis­sion, the Com­mis­sion on Elec­tions, and the Com­mis­sion on Au­dit.

Then, in a clear case of Aquino’s ad­vis­ers deal­ing them­selves, the EO de­clares:

1)“The chair­man and the mem­bers of the Com­mis­sion on Hu­man Rights shall be ap­pointed by the Pres­i­dent for a term of seven years with­out reap­point­ment.”

2) “The chair­man and the mem­bers of the Com­mis­sion on Hu­man Rights shall re­ceive the same salary as the chair­man and the mem­bers, re­spec­tively, of the Con­sti­tu­tional Com­mis­sions, which shall not be

The EO does not say that the com­mis­sion will in­ves­ti­gate only hu­man rights vi­o­la­tions by state ac­tors. It says only that “it will mon­i­tor the Philip­pine Gov­ern­ment’s com­pli­ance with in­ter­na­tional treaty obli­ga­tions on hu­man rights.” Nowhere are the po­lice and the mil­i­tary men­tioned.

Fi­nally, in an ex­pan­sion of her au­thor­ity. Aquino de­clares that, “The un­ex­pended ap­pro­pri­a­tions of the Pres­i­den­tial Com­mit­tee on Hu­man Rights are hereby trans­ferred to the Com­mis­sion on Hu­man Rights. All prop­er­ties, records, equip­ment, build­ings, fa­cil­i­ties and other as­sets of the Pres­i­den­tial Com­mit­tee on Hu­man Rights shall be trans­ferred to the Com­mis­sion on Hu­man Rights.”

It is a car­di­nal rule in US in­ter­pre­ta­tion of the sep­a­ra­tion of pow­ers that the Pres­i­dent can­not ap­pro­pri­ate what does not be­long to him.

EO 163 does not sound like an en­abling act at all. It does not have the rigor and sweep of a real law.

With­out doubt, Congress, in ex­er­cis­ing its pow­ers of de­bate, review and de­lib­er­a­tion, would have writ­ten a dif­fer­ent and bet­ter law cre­at­ing the hu­man rights com­mis­sion.

As things stand there­fore, the na­tion has been handed a statute of doubt­ful le­gal­ity, an agency of ques­tion­able life ex­pectancy, and state cof­fers must foot the bill.

Fal­lacy of false as­sump­tions

Why are the coun­try’s se­na­tors and cit­i­zens fall­ing all over them­selves to sal­vage the bud­get of the CHR?

The rea­son, I am con­vinced, is the pro­cliv­ity of peo­ple to be se­duced and hood­winked by the fal­lacy of false as­sump­tions.

The Se­nate, be­gin­ning with the Se­nate Pres­i­dent, is dom­i­nated by the fal­lacy.

The House mem­bers stud­ied their logic cour­ses in phi­los­o­phy with more at­ten­tive­ness.

I shall dis­cuss false as­sump­tions and the CHR in my col­umn on Tues­day.

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