The one thing Chito Gascon wants to tell the administration and its supporters

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CHR Chito Gascon
CHR Chairman Chito Gascon. PHIL. STAR FILE PHOTO

What is the one thing Commission on Human Rights chairperson Jose Luis Martin “Chito” C. Gascon wants to say to the Duterte administration and its followers?

In an “Ask Me Anything” thread Saturday on the website Reddit, Gascon fielded this question and more from Netizens on both light and serious topics, such as being part of the 1986 Constitutional Commission, whether he was a dog or cat lover, and whether he liked sinigang or adobo more.

Responding to Redditor Aeronautique_F, who had told him it was “time to let it all out, don’t you think???”, Gascon had a simple answer: “Just follow the Constitution and we’ll be fine.”

As to whether he saw any positive thing about the Duterte presidency, as asked by thirdworldpcgamer, Gascon replied, “I hear Inday Sara is a good mayor of Davao, but I cannot confirm it as of yet.”

Asked by merdionesmondragon to clarify whether the CHR was only mandated to look at human rights violations committed by the state, Gascon explained: “No, it goes this way: the Constitution mandates protection for human rights of all people, but it should be clear that it is the State that has an obligation to respect, protect, and fulfill those human rights. So, the mandate of the CHR is to monitor the State’s compliance with this obligation, and it does so by looking into the actions or inactions of State bodies.”

He added, “When it is the State itself that violates human rights, the CHR directly calls out those violations committed by the State. When non-State actors violate human rights, it is the principal duty of the State to respond to that (i.e. law enforcement, protection mechanisms, prosecution.) And so, when the State fails in performing this duty, we call that out, too.”

He further explained to Redditor decadentrebel, “Normal criminal cases are primarily a police matter, but the CHR remains concerned about all violations, and will point it out to the State when it falls short in respecting, protecting, and fulfilling human rights. We need to understand that the CHR is not a police or law enforcement institution. It is primarily a watchdog and monitoring institution, to remind the State of its obligations with regards to human rights in all circumstances.”

Another interesting question was from EnterTheDark, who recalled a conversation with a taxi driver who used to work for the CHR. The Redditor narrated how the former CHR employee said that one of the biggest obstacles for the CHR was that the judiciary dismisses a lot of cases out of fear of reprisal, particularly if the military is involved, no matter how strong those cases might be.

“Does this hold true even now? And what are the protections in place for members of the judiciary who work on these humans rights cases?” EnterTheDark asked.

Gascon replied that it was indeed true, and attributed it to the fact that the CHR did not have the power to prosecute.

“And so the anecdotal evidence suggests that, for every three recommendations the Commission makes that charges be filed, only one is ever taken up. We are trying to remedy this by proposing amendments to our Charter to improve this dismal situation and explore ways by which those authorities with the power to prosecute might have more confidence in pursuing human rights cases,” he said.

As to whether the CHR should be given the power to prosecute, the CHR chairperson said that it was a complicated matter.

“If CHR were to have prosecution powers, then we would be assuming Executive functions, and that might impact on our ability to be a watchdog. If we were to explore that possibility, maybe a governmental system akin to the Ombudsman-Sandigaybayan should be explored, where you have CHR, and then an office of a special prosecutor for human rights, and a special human rights court. Alternatively, we could create a human rights branch in the current national prosecution service. This matter can continue to be discussed,” he said.

Halfwayequinox2 asked whether there had been CHR action where erring police officers were punished by the courts or their superiors, Gascon replied that there were, but not many.

“Often, we are able to secure convictions at the trial court but they are then overturned on appeal,” he said.

Sadgaygirl presented a scenario: “The Philippines needs to send five Filipinos to represent the country for a first-ever month-long international strategic planning for everything that concerns its citizens… Who’s your dream team?”

Gascon named Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno, retired Chief Justice Hilario Davide, Ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales, Caloocan Bishop Ambo David, and Lea Salonga into the team. As for a team made up of Filipinos who had already passed away, Gascon picked Senator Jovito Salonga, Senator Pepe Diokno, Manila Archbishop Jaime Cardinal Sin, President Ramon Magsaysay, and Senator Ninoy Aquino.

Aesriven wanted to know how Gascon held on to his idealism and kept fighting in the face of opposition.

“By keeping the faith. Following your true north. All these things shall pass. Never doubt your convictions,” he said.

Card1ng asked how Gascon protected his family against death threats, to which the CHR chairperson replied, “We are trying to improve our security protocols. It’s a work in progress. So I avoid going out in public with my family.”

To Daloy’s query about how online and street protests contributed to the democratic process, Gascon said, “Protests are always useful in exposing irregularities and anomalies. In other words, they’re a good way to ‘bring down’ something, but the challenge is what do you build up after you’ve brought something down? That’s what requires active citizenship and leaders that will serve in government to improve things over the long term.”

Bliss360 asked, “How do we solve a problem like Cong. (Pantaleon) Alvarez? People who know the law but who proffer dangerous narratives to an already misinformed and gullible public.”

Gascon had this suggestion: “Dialogue with him and people like him. But more importantly, deepen the conversation in the public space with all stakeholders so that the best arguments are raised. We saw it happen in the 1k episode [where the House of Representatives allotted a P1,000 budget to the CHR for 2018]. They did their worst, but because of public outrage, they blinked. So we need to keep the conversation going and involve more people in that space.”

Ay_papi wanted to know why the CHR was tackling the hazing death of University of Santo Tomas law student Horacio Castillo III.

“CHR is always concerned about all human rights violations,” Gascon replied. “In the hazing case, while we sent an investigating team, we still view that as primarily a police matter, and so we’ll monitor how law enforcement proceeds with that case. We are not conducting our own separate investigation as such, but we’ll defer to the more competent agencies like the NBI and the police.”

Woootie inquired into his health.

“I’m okay. Yes, I’ve been losing weight, keeping my appetite, but lacking sleep. I have some minor health issues, but these will be overcome in due time,” Gascon assured.

On his experience as part of the 1986 Constitutional Commission, Gascon told milkolate, “I was the youngest member, and treated that way by the older members, yet they were always respectful of my views. In fact, because of my youth, I was given the responsibility to prepare the draft articles on education, in acknowledgment of the fact that our educational system deteriorated significantly during Martial Law. So I take pride in having contributed significantly to that article, as well as the rest of the Constitution. By the way, the Constitutional Commission worked at a very fast pace, that we completed a draft in barely four months, so it was quite intense.”

To Tangnang_Sora, Gascon said he liked dogs more than cats, especially Jack Russell Terriers and Beagles, “like Snoopy.”

And if he could only eat one dish for a year, Gascon told merdionesmondragon he would choose sinigang na baboy over adobong baboy “because it has vegetables.”

But, he said, “I love adobo too.”