MANILA, Philippines – Despite open hostility from government leaders, Commission on Human Rights chairman Jose Luis Martin “Chito” Gascon has no plans of resigning and would rather wait for Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez to make good on his threat of impeachment.
The CHR, a constitutional body, has long been in the crosshairs of President Rodrigo Duterte ever since its former chair, Senator Leila de Lima, began looking into extrajudicial killings by the so-called Davao Death Squad, which he allegedly created when he was mayor of the Mindanao city.
Since he became president, Duterte has repeatedly and openly cursed the CHR and other human rights activists, who he sees as obstacles to the prosecution of his war on drugs, which has claimed thousands of lives — some tallies place the current total at well over 12,000 and rising — most of these in what are widely believed to be extrajudicial killings, either by shadowy vigilante groups or law enforcers.
Most recently, Duterte suggested that police could shoot human rights activists for “obstruction of justice.”
But no matter how angry Duterte is at the CHR chairman, the only way Gascon can be legally removed is through impeachment.
In the past days, public outrage over the killings has been reignited by the death of 17-year old Kian Lloyd delos Santos of Caloocan City, one of the more than 80 persons who lost their lives in what is considered an exceptionally bloody week in Duterte’s war on drugs.
Gascon, in an interview, admitted the CHR “cannot do it alone … we did not create this disaster and I don’t know if by our efforts we will stop it,” even as he stressed the “need to develop and have partnerships with others.”
He said the agency has been overwhelmed by the sheer number of killings, noting that they have managed to investigate only 800 cases so far, only one of which — that involving the deaths of a father and son inside a Pasay City police precinct — has reached the court.
Nevertheless, Gascon said this was no reason to quit.
“We take our mandate seriously. We were called to do this task and we will do this the best that we can,” he said.
Besides which, he added: “When the entire commission will resign because it’s a winless battle and allow Mr. Duterte a free hand to appoint a replacement? I leave that to your imagination what will happen to the commission.”
“If the Speaker mentioned he wants to impeach me, then we will wait for his impeachment” Gascon said even as he noted that “marami pa yata sila gustong i-impeach eh (it seems there are many others they want to impeach).”
Describing the war on drugs, Gascon said Duterte’s accusations that the CHR would “hinder what they’re doing, that our investigation will obstruct … this idea of justice” signaled that the campaign had entered “Round 2.”
“Round 1 was the first year. We saw all of that unfold … some say 7,000, others say 10,000 or close to 12,000 deaths in one year … now it’s going up,” he said.
At the same time, Gascon acknowledged that Duterte’s constant utterances about shooting or beheading human rights defenders were “dangerous” because “it creates (an) exacerbation of the climate of impunity, which should be stopped.”