Should CHR still be in new charter?
Canada is fondly known as the home of the politest people in the world. Not coincidentally, it is also recognized as a nation-state that puts a very high premium on respecting human rights.
Filipinos have always been hailed as an extremely friendly and hospitable people. Yet as a nation we now face a global condemnation of callously ignoring human rights. And given the high number of summary killings recorded during the past months, a credible rebuttal is very difficult to mount.
The constitutional body tasked to promote the protection of human rights in the country is the Commission on Human Rights (Article XIII, Sections 17 & 18 of the 1987 Constitution).
The CHR primarily functions as the official forum for human rights issues. It was intended to keep the government respectful of the civil and political rights of all Filipinos. But it was never designed to be a full-fledged court of law or the prosecutor of human rights violations.
Curiously, Canada has no equivalent institution in its national charter. The Canadian Human Rights Commission was created under the Canadian Human Rights Act. Hence, it is merely a statutory body, unlike the Philippines’ CHR which was created by the 1987 Constitution.
Therefore, in the constitutional revision process, it is only fair to ask: Should the CHR still be in the new constitution? Two sides need to be heard here.
One view questions the rationale of maintaining the CHR given how many Filipinos see fidelity to human rights as relevant to victims only. The fact that many of us have tolerated the glaring human rights violations committed in the name of the war on drugs is very hard to ignore.
Some critics coming from this perspective even extend their skepticism by arguing that the new constitution may be better off without establishing a CHR, for this may spare the country from the embarrassment of claiming to believe in a constitutional ideal but failing to live up to its demands.
Another view approaches this matter from a more contemporary perspective. It agrees with the CHR that: “Human rights build a nation with dignity.” Hence, it wants the new charter to address precisely the reasons why the CHR seems inadequate to solve the human rights problem in the country.
To enable the CHR to be more dynamic and proactive in performing its given mandate, those who espouse this view want the new constitution to endow the office with substantial authority: appropriate powers not just to prosecute human rights violators and give victims the justice they seek, but also to establish a more engaging human rights framework in the country.
They further believe that it might be under an improved and enhanced CHR that the internalization of human rights principles by the polity can be drastically accelerated—thus making it easier for the office to foster a robust human rights culture.
The truth is, it might only be with a duly empowered CHR that we can envisage a nation where the rights of individual Filipinos are unconditionally valued and respected—a nation with dignity as the CHR envisions.
Respecting the rights of our fellow human beings is not really an alien concept to Filipinos. Article 1 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states: “All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.”
The phrase “in a spirit of brotherhood” is particularly telling. Ostensibly, the ultimate aim of recognizing human rights is to forge a sense of solidarity within the community. The end sought here is to facilitate bayanihan!
Deeply integrating respect for human rights in the public consciousness is therefore conceivable because every Filipino is familiar with the notion of bayanihan. And undeniably, the resurrection of this precolonial tradition is what we desperately need.
Michael Henry Ll. Yusingco, a practicing lawyer, is the author of the book “Rethinking the Bangsamoro Perspective.” He conducts research on current issues in state-building, decentralization and constitutionalism.
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