As Ferdinand Marcos Jr. makes his way to Malacañang, he will be met by controversies surrounding the country’s human rights situation, especially the killings during his predecessor’s brutal drug war, and a Commission on Human Rights (CHR) with no chair nor commissioners.
The terms of office of the chair and all the four human rights commissioners ended on May 5, giving Marcos a clean slate to fill up one of the institutions created by the 1987 Constitution specifically to promote and protect human rights in response to atrocities and abuses committed during his late father’s dictatorship that ended in 1986.
Let people participate
Former commissioners and other human rights advocates strongly urged the presumptive president on Friday to consider nominees from civil society groups, the academe and other rights defenders to ensure independence of his appointees.
Former CHR Commissioner Gwendolyn Pimentel Gana said she would recommend people’s participation in vetting possible appointees. A search committee formed by various organizations can draft a list of personalities who will serve in the commission, she said.
The selection process for CHR officials must be in accordance with international standards as stated in the Paris Principles, the human rights standards recognized globally which frame and guide the work of National Human Rights Institutions (NHRI) in each participating country, Gana said.
Test of ‘unity’ call
Under the Paris Principles, which was adopted by the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner on Human Rights, the CHR commissioners must be chosen in accordance with a procedure that may involve an election or deliberations by different sectors. The officials must maintain their independence after appointment.
“It’s very important that the process of choosing should be transparent and should be open to everyone who are interested or would be interested,” she added.
Gana, one of the commissioners who oversaw the investigation on President Duterte’s drug war, said that if Marcos was truly for “unity,” he should listen to the public’s preferences.
Although she admitted feeling “trepidation” over the appointment of CHR officials by a Marcos, Gana still hoped there would be transparency, nonpartisanship and public participation in the selection process.
The appointees to the CHR should be people with integrity, passion for truth and justice, independence and “proven track record” in upholding human rights, according to Carlos Conde, senior researcher at the Asia division of the New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW).But Mr. Duterte’s presidential human rights adviser, Severo Catura, should be excluded, he said.
Conde was concerned that Marcos would “politicize this whole thing and appoint known apologists and enemies of human rights like Catura, God forbid.”
“We have a lot of human rights advocates that can fit the bill,” Conde told the Inquirer. “The only question is whether they’d be willing to work in a regime known for its human rights issues.”
Marcos has refused to apologize for the human rights violations committed during his father’s martial rule.
Former CHR Chair Etta Rosales, a victim of torture during martial law, is also pressing for the people’s participation through a search committee. This group should be composed of human rights experts from educational institutions, human rights organizations and former CHR officials, she said.
“As President-elect, he (Marcos) should listen to the recommendations and study these closely,” Rosales said. “Show transparency and let the people and the international community know that he is willing to learn and listen.”
The next big challenge for Marcos would be the mounting controversies over the brutal drug war, which has been strongly condemned by international and local organizations and even by foreign governments.
Gana said that the drug war probe was the “No. 1 unfinished business” in the CHR and that justice has yet to be served to victims.
Marcos had not made any clear statements on whether he would pursue the prosecution of state agents involved in alleged extrajudicial killings in the war on drugs. In January, he said he would bar foreign investigators looking into Mr. Duterte’s case in the International Criminal Court from entering the country.
Conde said that the next set of CHR officials should also investigate the arrests of activists.
He said he was already seeing the “wicked irony” in the appointment by Marcos of CHR officials who could “sanitize” the Marcos name in the public’s eye and back Red-tagging.
“This, in other words, will be a degradation of human rights in the country,” he said.
Gana, whose late father, former Senate President Aquilino Pimentel Jr., was incarcerated four times during the dictatorship, said that she did not want to prejudge whatever Marcos would do to the CHR.
“He should unite with justice,” she said. “You cannot revise the past. You have to accept it and at the same time, ensure justice is served to the people who were abused, killed, tortured during the time of his father’s administration.”
A law passed under the administration of President Benigno Aquino III, Republic Act No. 10368, also known as the “Human Rights Reparation and Recognition Act of 2013,” categorically recognized human rights violations during the Marcos dictatorship.
It allocated P10 billion, which was taken from the Marcos family’s confiscated Swiss bank accounts, for reparation to victims of gross human rights violations during that period and for the establishment of a memorial museum and library.
According to the Human Rights Violations Victims’ Memorial Commission, at least 11,103 people suffered various forms of atrocities and abuses.
They include 2,326 victims of killings and enforced disappearance; 3,318 who were involuntary exiled (involving intimidation and physical injuries, violence and illegal takeover of business); 3,355 who were arbitrarily detained; 1,922 tortured, including rape and sexual abuse; and 182 who suffered cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment.