When the current chairman of the Commission on Human Rights, Atty. Richard Palpal-latoc, was appointed to his post by President Ferdinand R. Marcos last year, human rights groups raised quizzical eyebrows and quite possibly feared that he would remain quiet on the ticklish issue of human rights.
He was, after all, a former law partner of Atty. Vic Rodriguez, the spokesman of then presidential candidate Bongbong Marcos and later first Executive Secretary of the Marcos administration for a few months until his exit from the Cabinet.
And Palpal-latoc was also a prosecutor under the Department of Justice and, therefore, would have adopted the government position on the issue of alleged human right violations during the Duterte administration’s bloody war on illegal drugs.
Justice Secretary Jesus Crispin Remulla had categorically stated early on that the DOJ would not allow the International Criminal Court to come over and investigate drug cases as the country had already renounced its ICC membership in 2017.
The ICC would be violating Philippine sovereignty, he said, if it insisted on doing a full-blown investigation of drug war deaths as our judicial system was working well and did not need an external entity to meddle in our internal affairs.
This official government position was reiterated by no less than President Marcos, who declared: “We’re done talking with the ICC. Like what we have been saying from the beginning, we will not cooperate with them in any way, shape, or form.”
But it appears the CHR is taking seriously its mandate as an “independent office” as the 1987 Constitution calls it that can “investigate on its own or on complaint by any party, all forms of human rights involving civil and political rights.”
What the CHR chairman said recently was the agency was “willing to cooperate” with the ICC on its investigation into the Duterte administration’s war on drugs.
But he admitted that the commission does not know yet which specific cases the ICC would look into. He also said the court had not yet sought the CHR’s assistance regarding any case.
While the CHR only has recommendatory but not prosecutorial power, it can grant “immunity from prosecution to any person whose testimony or possession of documents or other evidence is necessary or convenient to determine the truth in any investigation conducted by it or under its authority.”
Palpal-latoc told media recently “if the ICC will request us to help them [provide] the evidence we have gathered in the cases we have already investigated, we can share it…If our participation would help find a solution to the problem of human rights affecting Filipinos, we will perform our mandate.”
No doubt, human rights groups would welcome the CHR’s position that stands in direct contrast to that taken by Malacañang and the DOJ.
But will the CHR stand pat on this? That we’ll have to see.