The 1987 Constitution created the CHR to prevent the recurrence of government abuses rampant in the Marcos dictatorship. It is both a cure and a preventative. Aside from its investigative and visitorial powers, the CHR can also “recommend to Congress effective measures to promote human rights” (Art. XIII, Sec. 18 ) which Congress is instructed “to give the highest priority” (Art. XIII, Sec. 1). In plain language, the Constitution requires the Legislature to cooperate with the CHR.
This shouldn’t be a problem. The CHR is a good thing. It gives a voice to citizens victimized by public officers; it also shields them from official intimidation and grants them a fair shake. This is an agency any right-minded Chief Executive would preserve and promote.
But not Duterte.
This chief doesn’t even understand the CHR’s jurisdiction. He has repeatedly charged that the CHR is bogus because it refuses to champion the victims of heinous crimes. This is parroted by his strident, rabid “bloggers” who pummel public nerves with their tirades. What Duterte misapprehends (and I’ll state this as simply as possible) is that private crimes are the turf of the PNP and NBI. The CHR only enters the arena when the perpetrator is the government or its agents.
Duterte likes to remind everyone that he is a lawyer. Why then doesn’t he know these things?
OBSTRUCTION OF JUSTICE
In his SONA last July, Duterte notoriously warned the CHR that he would not allow the armed forces and police to be investigated without his permission. He said:
“Iyong CHR, iyong opisina dito, you are better abolished, I will not allow my men to go there to be investigated. Remember this, human rights commission, you address your requests through me because the armed forces is under me and the police are under me, kaya kapag kinwestiyon mo sila for investigation, dumaan muna sa akin.”
He also commanded his “men” not to submit to investigation by the CHR and the Ombudsman, ignoring the fact that both are constitutional bodies autonomous of the executive. Duterte’s order outright contravened the related constitutional provisions that check executive excesses.
Following this, the Palace, through deputy executive secretary Menardo Guevarra, hastened to clarify that, “The Office of the Ombudsman, CHR, can do what they need to do so no need to get the President’s permission to do so formally.” Duterte is adept in criminal procedure, Guevarra said, and “knows the limits of what he can do and what he can’t.”
Does he really? That’s doubtful, because on September 8, DILG USec. Catalino Cuy revealed that Duterte banned the PNP from sharing case folders with the CHR. These folders contain “police spot, investigation, forensic, and inventory reports of all killings related to the war on drugs, both in and out of police operations.”
It will be remembered that during the first hearing of the Public Order and Dangerous Drugs Committee on the Kian delos Santos killing, Sen. Panfilo Lacson brokered a meeting between the CHR and the PNP precisely to discuss the transfer of data on drug related fatalities to aid the CHR’s investigation. Following that meeting, efforts were made to deliver that information to the CHR. Duterte’s prohibition arrests that process.
Cuy admitted that Duterte expects all requests for information to be cleared with him first. Rappler reported:
When Cuy was asked to clarify if Duterte did not want the CHR to see the case folders, he said, “Yeah, parang ganoon (something like that).” Pressed to confirm further if the President did not approve the request [for the case folders], Cuy said, “Yes.”
Meanwhile at the House of Representatives, the CHR’s budget is being stonewalled. Deliberations have been deferred twice, and they are now set for the last day of budget talks. The educated guess is that the CHR will be denied since Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez has made it clear that he favors a zero 2018 budget for the Commission. Without resources, the CHR will be unable to effectively investigate the rising number of violent deaths particularly involving youths. Gascon has appealed to Alvarez and is still hoping to persuade him but it looks like a long shot. Alvarez is merely marching to Duterte’s rhythm.
What is it when an individual or a group deliberately takes steps to hinder the investigation of a crime? Legally, it’s called obstruction of justice. P.D. No. 1829 imposes the penalty of a six-year jail term and up to P6,000 in fines or both “upon any person who knowingly or willfully obstructs, impedes, frustrates or delays the apprehension of suspects and the investigation and prosecution of criminal cases” by committing any or all of nine acts. These include:
(b) altering, destroying, suppressing or concealing any paper, record, document, or object, with intent to impair its verity, authenticity, legibility, availability, or admissibility as evidence in any investigation of or official proceedings in, criminal cases, or to be used in the investigation of, or official proceedings in, criminal cases;
(c) harboring or concealing, or facilitating the escape of, any person he knows, or has reasonable ground to believe or suspect, has committed any offense under existing penal laws in order to prevent his arrest prosecution and conviction; [emphases supplied]
Section 2 of the Act states that if the offender is a public official, in addition to the penalties, he or she “shall suffer perpetual disqualification from public office.” As president, Duterte enjoys immunity from suit and revels in impunity. But there will be a comeuppance.
No one is above the law. Rodrigo Duterte likes to say, “I’m a lawyer,” as Dick Gordon does. They seem to think declaring that elevates them; actually, it only makes them more culpable. When they flout the very law they vaunt because they feel they can, they erode the bedrock of civilization. They are accountable.
What makes us “civilized” is essentially our ability to be moral. It is that morality that guides our ethics. When the chief executive fails in both regards; when he himself is immoral and unethical; when he protects wrongdoers, delays justice, and persecutes those fighting for right, then he personifies the baseness that the rule of law detests. He is not fit to lead us. He is better sent to the penitentiary where he can repent of his crimes.
Acquitting the guilty and condemning the innocent – the LORD detests them both. – Proverbs 17:15
Whoever says to the guilty, “You are innocent,” will be cursed by peoples and denounced by nations. But it will go well with those who convict the guilty, and rich blessing will come on them. – Proverbs 24:24-25