THE consultative committee tasked by President Rodrigo Duterte to review the 1987 Constitution on Monday voted to raise the Commission on Human Rights to the status of an independent constitutional commission sans prosecutorial powers.
Sixteen Con-Com members voted in favor of raising the proposal with only one member, lawyer and retired general Ferdinand Bocobo, voting against.
Former Senate President Aquilino Pimentel Jr. abstained because he has a relative who is a member of the CHR.
The voting came after the Con-Com proposed to expand the coverage of the CHR’s mandate and jurisdiction to include not just state actors but also non-state or private actors.
In a statement sent to the media, the Con-Com said that raising the CHR to the level of a constitutional body would involve strengthening its investigative powers and expanding membership to include representatives from the marginalized sector, indigenous peoples, and environmental advocates, among others.
Former Chief Justice and Con-Com chairperson Reynato Puno said this move was consistent with the body’s desire to expand its coverage to include the environmental and socioeconomic rights, which are to be enshrined in the Bill of Rights, and to include non-state actors as well in its jurisdiction.
This development is also intended to enhance the CHR’s fiscal autonomy.
However, it does not include the grant of prosecutorial powers, which the CHR is not keen on having.
Last April 3, CHR Chairman Chito Gascon, in his presentation before the Con Com body, explained that giving the CHR prosecutorial powers might create complication as the CHR was not an executive body.
Prosecution is one of the primordial executive functions.
“To give the CHR that function may create a complication because if it were to serve as a watchdog on the state duty with respect to human rights and it is given powers to prosecute human rights violations, then the question is who will watch the watchdog,” Gascon was quoted as saying.
Gascon, however, said the CHR was “supportive of any measure that will ensure that the CHR has a mandate to also look into the violations made by non-state actors.”
In a radio interview last April 7, Puno said the expansion of the mandate of the CHR was expected to correct the misconception that only state actors violate human rights.
Puno explained the mandate of the CHR was not limited to human-rights violations by agencies or elements of the state or government but should extend to those by non-state actors as well.
The former chief justice said although the CHR’s main objective was to protect citizens’ rights from abuses by the state, it eventually evolved into something greater.
“It’s true that in the beginning, its objective was to go after the government because the thought is to protect against government interference. But when you look at the evolution, it’s not only the government that violates political and civil rights—even non-state actors do,” Puno explained.