Statement of the Commission on Human Rights on the establishment of a Special Committee on Human Rights Coordination 

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The Commission on Human Rights (CHR) acknowledges the recent directive of President Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. to form a special committee tasked to further champion human rights protection in the country. The Chief Executive established a “Special Committee on Human Rights Coordination” to carry out Administrative Order (AO) No. 22, which seeks to improve the mechanisms for the promotion and protection of human rights in the Philippines. This special committee operates under the existing Presidential Human Rights Committee (PHRC).

It must be reiterated that in 2021, the Philippines and the United Nations Joint Programme (UNJP) on human rights facilitated technical cooperation and capacity-building in support of national initiatives and institutional frameworks in six areas: (a) domestic investigative and accountability mechanisms; (b) data gathering on alleged police violations; (c) National Mechanism for Monitoring and Follow-Up (NMRF); (d) civic space and engagement with civil society; (e) drug control; and (f) counter-terrorism.

The CHR notes the gains that UNJP has provided to further allow the government for a more focused implementation of efforts that actively promote developments on the human rights situation in the Philippines. As the end of the program nears in July 2024, CHR also recommends the prospect of continuing this partnership as a foundational pillar, ensuring that the country stays clear-sighted towards its goal to comply with its international human rights obligations and to implement domestic policies which respond to the needs of the vulnerable and marginalised.

Parallel to this, the Commission recognises the government’s commitment to maintaining and enhancing the goals of the UNJP, as well as ensuring that the Philippines adheres to its obligations as a State Party to various international human rights conventions and treaties.

CHR Chairperson Richard Palpal-latoc expressed his high hopes for the establishment and implementation of AO 22. He emphasised the importance of taking a whole-government approach to addressing human rights issues in the country.

“An integrated government approach is essential for effectively addressing human rights concerns, complemented by strong partnerships with CSOs and other relevant stakeholders. Through this coordinating body, we aim to see increased prosecution of cases related to the war on drugs and enforced disappearances, as well as the adoption of a comprehensive human rights-based approach in various government responses, particularly in counter-terrorism efforts, addressing red-tagging, and safeguarding freedom of expression,” Chairperson Palpal-latoc stated.

While awaiting the implementing guidelines of AO 22, the Commission remains optimistic that this initiative is a step in the right direction and will yield concrete and meaningful results while prioritising a whole society approach– from consultation to implementation. We are hopeful that these guidelines will pave the way for actions and policies that genuinely serve the interests of the Filipino people, with a particular focus on protecting and uplifting the vulnerable and marginalised sectors of society.

We also note the concerns raised by various civil society organisations (CSOs). Rest assured that the CHR will remain vigilant and committed to its fundamental role as the intermediary between the government and CSOs. The CHR is also open to participating in this coordinating body to ensure apparent and equal representation among relevant stakeholders.

Meanwhile, Commissioner Faydah Maniri Dumarpa expressed her view that this initiative could lead to increased government support for the Commission’s human rights efforts.

“In line with the current administration’s thrust in promoting and safeguarding human rights principles in the country, we are hopeful that this will gain equal support for passing the CHR Charter bill. This will further strengthen the Commission’s mandate, enabling us to provide essential legal aid services, establish mechanisms for strategic litigation to ensure access to justice for victims of human rights violations, and advocate for vital legislation such as the National Preventive Mechanism (NPM). These efforts are all aimed at upholding the human rights principles enshrined in our Constitution,” Commissioner Dumarpa said.

While we recognise the establishment of this special committee, the CHR, as the country’s national human rights institution, remains fully independent and committed to the fulfillment of its Constitutional mandate. The CHR serves as the primary institution tasked with monitoring, investigating, promoting, and advocating for human rights in the Philippines.

Safeguarding, upholding, and respecting the rights of all remains the State’s primary responsibility, as stated in Article II, Section 11 of the 1987 Constitution, which states, “the State values the dignity of every human person and guarantees full respect for human rights.” The CHR’s role remains fundamental. Its independence ensures that it can contribute to fulfilling its mandate and core duties without bias or interference.

We are hopeful that this special committee presents an opportunity to institutionalise human rights policies through the passage of vital legislation such as the CHR Charter, and to ensure that these policies and practices will have a direct impact on the lives of individuals within communities, particularly the disadvantaged, vulnerable, and groups at the grassroots level.

Kami ang CHR na handang maglingkod– saan man, kailanman, maging sino ka man.

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