Democracy on the death throes

A budget of P1,000 for the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) for 2018. That’s how low the supposed honorable members of Congress have sunk just to appease the country’s No. 1 CHR hater, President Duterte.

The justification given by House Speaker Pantaleon D. Alvarez is so flimsy it smacks of outright bullying. He says the CHR was not doing its job.

Duterte’s ascension to power last year already forewarned us of his autocratic ways. He is a man who doesn’t take into account other people’s wishes or opinions. To him, everything he does is right and justified, while anyone who goes against him is “stupid”, “a son of a bitch”, “a fool”, “gay” or simply “yellow”.

Then President of the United States Barrack Obama, the Pope, the United Nations, the European Union and just about everyone who cautioned him about the dangers of his internationally unpopular war on drugs were called names, in the manner of a neighborhood drunkard. I and some of you also wonder why despite such vulgarity, his popularity ratings remain strongly in positive territory.

His war on drugs, which international observers report have claimed more than 10,000 deaths (although government figures place them at just over 6,000), is the only way to go “to save my country” from being a narco state, Duterte often says with conviction. Such obsession makes it appear that the Philippines has no other problems but drugs. The tragic part is that only the poor and marginalized are being targeted. The recent killings of three boys who are just past or nearing puberty age have awakened a docile community to decry the almost daily carnage of mostly suspected drug users or couriers, while the drug lords remain scot-free and continue to laugh their way to the bank.

I do not normally pay attention to what Sen. JV G. Ejercito says, but his recent pronouncement makes a lot of sense: “The campaign against illegal drugs should shift high gear by focusing on the sourced drug shipments—whether in raw or finished product forms—which from all indications come from China, and intercept them before reaching our shores…the drug war should not be confined in the country’s streets, by killing small narcotics retailers, pushers and drug addicts…this strategy will only pile up body bags.”

In May of this year, some 605 kilograms of shabu worth P6.4 billion from Xiamen, China, sailed past the Bureau of Customs, prompting Congress to hold numerous investigations. In the Senate, Sen. Antonio F. Trillanes IV insinuated that Duterte’s son Paolo and son-in-law Mans Carpio may be involved in drug smuggling, an allegation that the two vehemently denied. The shabu shipment is by far the biggest to be smuggled into the country under the Duterte administration.

Through all these, the CHR under its mandate has never been remiss of its constitutional duties to call out the state actors whom it perceives to be violating the rights of those they are accusing of drug ties. True to form, Duterte was infuriated and even threatened to abolish the body that was formed under the 1987 Philippine Constitution.

For repeatedly expressing concern over deaths linked to the drug war, explicitly those the CHR claimed were unjustified, Congress deemed it just right to clip its wings, “for not doing its job”.

Acting on a motion by Party-list Rep. Rodante Marcoleta of Saklolo At Gabay Ng Ina At Pamilya, 119 congressmen favored giving the CHR a measly P1,000 budget for 2018. A mix of majority, minority and opposition members totaling 32 legislators voted against it.

The main argument being thrown by the government and its rabid followers against the CHR is the latter’s seeming soft treatment on criminals, but hard stance against the police force, which is in the forefront of Duterte’s drug war.

These insinuations puzzle me, especially since most of our legislators are lawyers. These legislators are echoing the now-familiar refrain often mouthed by Department of Justice (DOJ) Secretary Vitaliano N. Aguirre, Solicitor General of the Philippines Jose C. Calida, chief of National Police Ronaldo “Bato” M. dela Rosa, among other government officials.

Under its mandate, the CHR is dutybound to protect the citizens’ rights from abuses by the state, such as the (civilian) government, the police and military. It seeks to ensure that there will be no abuse or negligence on the part of the government in protecting and upholding the rights of all the citizens, especially those who are marginalized.

Each branch of government has the load in upholding the rights and the needs of the citizenry. But in cases where the government itself violates or denies human rights, the CHR is authorized to act as the “conscience of the government”.

In a widely circulated infographic posted on the social-media site Facebook, the CHR said: “If it is a civilian or private person who did the crime, such as killing or rape, it is the Philippine National Police [PNP] who has the duty and mandate to take action.”

Simply put, the CHR is neither the police nor the protector of criminals. Along with other human rights advocates, the CHR is beeing demonized by the government for criticizing Duterte’s war on drugs.

In a recent interview with the Philippine Daily Inquirer, CHR Commissioner Roberto Eugenio T. Cadiz lamented that one senator “even sent us a pile of cases challenging us to investigate carnappings and kidnappings”.

If that senator fails to even grasp the CHR fundamental mandate, it is not surprising that many people now perceive most of our legislators as “imbeciles”.

In the same interview, Cadiz explained that under traditional definitions, human-rights violations are committed by the state. “There’s another school of thought that violations can be committed even by nonstate actors, but in terms of operationalizing the concept, as far as the mandate of the CHR is concerned, most cases we are investigating involve alleged violations of the state.”

The recent action of Congress, if not remedied by the Senate when it soon tackles the same budget issue, will definitely kill “the conscience of the government”. This is what Duterte wants, and our legislators are giving him just that, on a silver platter.

Is there basis for the growing fear among those who oppose the extrajudicial killings being committed in the government’s war on drugs? Is our country on its way to becoming a necro state?


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