tom villarinPrivilege speech of Akbayan Partylist Rep. Tom Villarin

July 31, 2017


Madam Speaker, distinguished colleagues.

In his State of the Nation Address last July 24, 2017, President Rodrigo Roa Duterte criticized the Commission on Human Rights for looking at human rights from just one lens.

He said: "Do not make it a one-sided affair. I will not allow it. As President, I will not allow it. Patas tayo. Justice for all. What is sauce for the gander is sauce for the goose. If you have not investigated the deaths of my police and military men, do not *#%% with us.”

President Duterte also defended the military on allegations of human rights abuses in areas where martial law is imposed. “There can never be a violation of martial law. Because even the killing itself is already a violation of human rights."

He likewise warned that he would bomb Lumad schools in going up against the NPA as these schools allegedly teach communism and teach children to rebel against government.  He ended up his endless tirades against the CHR by saying that he will abolish it in a press conference after the SONA.

Last Tuesday, July 25—a day after SONA—no less than the Chief of the Philippine National Police, General Bato dela Rosa and Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana seconded the President’s policy statement.

Madam Speaker, my dear colleagues: Ito po ay nakakabahala. Nakakabahala ang ganitong panukala na buwagin ang CHR sapagkat kaakibat nito ay ang pagkawala din ng ating demokrasya. Ang karapatang pantao ang siyang puso’t kaluluwa ng ating Saligang Batas.

It seems that the President has not appreciated the historical evolution of society from man ‘the beast’ to that of the ‘free man.’  

Human rights: the literal words have to be understood from our appreciation of who we are. Human: member of the species, the single race “homo sapiens.” Whatever persons are called, or call themselves, wherever they live, they are human.

Therefore human rights are benefits to which people are entitled simply by virtue of being human.  It is not a one-sided affair because it encompasses the totality of our being.  It is universal and inalienable, interdependent and indivisible; and it applies equally and is non-discriminatory.

The highest aspiration of the common person is to lead a life where he can enjoy freedom of speech, freedom of belief, and have no fear of suppression. Disregard and contempt for "Human Rights" have resulted in barbarous acts that have outraged the conscience of humanity.

Human rights should be built into the society as a natural rule. As a last resort only, law should be applied as a protection. States should never invoke its powers against its citizens unless absolutely necessary.  Democracy is a universal value and is always a contested concept. But we are where we are because of our adherence to such values.

The adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights is a testament of humankind’s abhorrence to two world wars and its resolve to free the peoples of the world from colonizers, tyrants and dictators. It is a reminder that never again should we re-live the horrors of inhumane conditions of war, oppression, violation of the rights of sovereign peoples, the right to life, of human dignity, among others. This concern, led to the majority of governments in the world to come to the conclusion that basic human rights must be protected. This is not only for the sake of the individuals and countries involved, but essentially to preserve the human race.

President Duterte’s SONA speech will be excused by his lapdogs and sycophants to be presidential hyperboles so as not to alarm the people.  This should not be tolerated even as a ‘figure of speech’ coming from the highest official of the land.

In 1986, we ousted a dictator and forged a Constitution that said never again should we allow the horrors of martial rule. We established an independent human rights commission under Article XIII of the 1987 Constitution, “Section 17. (1) There is hereby created an independent office called the Commission on Human Rights.” By its very nature as a constitutional body, it is beyond the powers of the Executive branch to abolish it. The CHR as a constitutional body was made operational by virtue of E0 163 issued by then President Cory Aquino on May 5, 1987. The EO provided for the qualifications and terms of office of the Chair and Commissioners and enumerated the powers and functions of the Commission as enumerated in Section 17.

Its avowed mission is to defend persons against the excesses of the state.  It would provide appropriate legal measures for the protection of human rights of all persons within the Philippines, as well as Filipinos residing abroad, and provide for preventive measures and legal aid services to the under-privileged whose human rights have been violated or need protection. On its own or on the filing of a complaint by any party, it can investigate all forms of human rights violations involving civil and political rights.

It will monitor the Philippine government’s compliance with international treaties and obligations on human rights. It has visitorial powers over jails, prisons, or detention facilities. It can recommend to Congress measures to promote human rights and to compensate victims of human rights violations. On matters of practical concern, the CHR has been instrumental in protecting ordinary citizens from languishing in secret detention cells, investigating involuntary disappearances like the Jonas Burgos case, condemning violation of the rights of indigenous peoples such as the Lumads, and coming out strongly against extra-judicial killings.

It is not the mandate of the CHR to stop criminality or to conduct law enforcement operations to curb lawless violence.  In theaters of war and conflict, International Humanitarian Law will apply.  In 2009, Congress enacted RA 9851 or “Philippine Act on Crimes Against International Humanitarian Law, Genocide, and Other Crimes Against Humanity.” Here, war crimes committed by both state and non-state actors will apply. It has specific sanctions against violations of the human rights of persons taking no active part in the hostilities.

When the President talks about the human rights of the police and military, he is dealing with IHL in a broader perspective of international human rights. Thus, his saying that what is “sauce for the gander is also for the goose.’

But here we are dealing not with civilians but with armed combatants. It is to be stressed that combatants from both sides have to be treated humanely and not subjected to torture, to cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment.

If our police and military in armed conflict die or suffer wounds in battle, our nation honors them with their sacrifice and bravery. We do not honor them by using terror and brutality against our enemies.

If our enemies use inhumane means in combat, the CHR cannot go after them but the State’s full powers over law enforcement and its prosecutorial arm can and should be used---by filing charges against these non-state armed actors.  Depending on the circumstances, they may be subject to civilian law or a military tribunal for their acts.

When the President said he would bomb Lumad schools, it is totally abhorrent and condemnable, even if the context that such infrastructures are used to harbor rebels. Promoting subversion or inciting to rebellion inside schools can never justify treating them as legitimate military targets.

In armed conflicts, the term “military necessity” has to be clarified. Luis Moreno Ocampo, chief prosecutor of the international criminal court, wrote in 2006: "International humanitarian law and the Rome statute permit belligerents to carry out proportionate attacks against military objectives, even when it is known that some civilian deaths or injuries will occur. But a CRIME occurs if there is an intentional attack directed against civilians (principle of distinction) ... or an attack is launched on a military objective in the knowledge that the incidental civilian injuries would be clearly excessive in relation to the anticipated military advantage (principle of proportionality).

Now, we have come to a proposal to abolish the Commission on Human Rights.  This is a diabolical proposal and conjures a scenario of authoritarian rule.

We should not let this happen.

Madam Speaker, Akbayan opposes this proposal based on the following reasons:

1. The Commission on Human Rights is a constitutional body.  Abolishing it will only happen if we abolish our 1987 Constitution.  

2.  It will negate the gains of the anti-dictatorship struggle and democratic spaces we have created to foster values of freedom --- of speech, of the press, to organize and express grievances, freedom of assembly.

3.  It will forsake the sacrifices of over 75,000 human rights victims under Marcos.  While we passed a historic law recognizing them and holding the State accountable, abolishing the CHR would mean diminishing, if not erasing them, from our memories.

4. The Philippines will be negatively affected in the international community and puts into question our commitment to international human rights and international humanitarian law. It will be a reversal of our international standing as a staunch human rights defender. This sends a wrong message and this will now equate us with North Korea as a rogue state.

5. It will only institutionalize the reign of impunity, the culture of fear and silence now happening around us and will lead to the disempowerment and desecration of our democratic values.

This is a proposal that we must resist.

We need an independent, credible and effective human rights commission to monitor the abuses of the State simply because we owe it to our people.

We cannot give human rights monitoring to the AFP or the PNP simply because they still cannot give us the guarantee of protection. They hold the monopoly of violence that they can use against us citizens of the republic anytime.

We had this painful and tragic lesson of a dictatorship not too long ago. I hope it is not happening again.

Thank you, Madam Speaker.