President Duterte has again slammed the government’s human rights watchdog, accusing it of being biased against the army and police.
The president has suggested that the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) could be scrapped, and has ordered police officers or soldiers being investigated by the constitutionally mandated body to seek his permission before answering any questions.
He said the move was a bid to prevent personnel being intimidated by the “one-sided” government body.
Speaking at a press conference after yesterday’s State of the Nation Address, he said: “I will not allow my men to go there to be investigated. Remember this. Human Rights Commission, you address your request through me because the Armed Forces is under me and the police is under me.
“If you question them for investigation, it has to go through me. Do not intimidate them. Do not force me because I can clash with you.”
“Conscience of the government”
The CHR has been a critical voice on alleged extrajudicial killings linked to the president’s war on drugs. Some estimates put the death toll at 9,000, but officials close to the president dismiss this as “fake news”.
In response, the president has frequently lambasted the CHR for not investigating acts of crime.
Speaking in Tagum City earlier this month, for example, he said: “Every day, as there is an addict that is killed, there is also an innocent person who is held up, to be arrested, to die… and these idiots just turn a blind eye.
“You can never hear the human rights, or the human rights lawyers even just an expression of sympathy or condemnation. The idiots do not care.”
His words on this occasion prompted the CHR to issue an infographic clarifying the difference between “crimes” and “human rights violations” — with a reminder that its role was to function as the “conscience of government”.
“It is the CHR’s duty to protect the citizens’ rights from abuses by the state, such as the government, police, and military,” it said.
“You are better abolished”
Yesterday, the president returned to this theme, questioning why the CHR was not investigating the recent communist ambush of a Presidential Security Group convoy in North Cotabato.
“If you fail to address also the atrocities of the other side, so that you can get the truth and the whole story, then do not investigate my army and police,” he said.
“Do not make it a one-sided affair. I will not allow it. As president, I will not allow it. It should be fair. Justice for all. What is sauce for the gander is sauce for the goose. If you have not as yet investigated the deaths of my police and military men, then do not f*** with us.”
He then went on to say that the CHR should be abolished, before encouraging the security forces to do their jobs “without restraint”.
“So I am ordering the military and the police, there should be no mercy because they are not showing us mercy. And they are making excuses if they cannot boot them out of the job — dereliction of duty, abandonment of duty. These poor guys are putting their lives at stake.
“So this time, you do it to me, do it to my police and my Army, they will do it to you. We have our own style. And when the time comes, CHR, the office here, you are better abolished.”
The president also dared CHR chairman Chito Gascon to join security forces in Marawi City. “If you believe in human rights, Gascon, go ahead, go there or withdraw the military.
“If somebody dies there, I will tie you in a post and allow my soldiers to use you for their target practice to improve their accuracy.”
“We don’t need the CHR”
When asked about the possibility of the CHR being scrapped, the heads of both the Army and police said they wouldn’t miss it.
Asked his opinion by reporters today, police chief Ronald dela Rosa said: “It’s fine with me, it’s not a problem. If it’s okay with the president, then it’s okay with me.
“With or without CHR, we can do our jobs properly without violating the rights of the people.”
Defence secretary Delfin Lorenzana was initially hesitatant to express an opinion, saying: “I don’t want to talk about that. That’s a constitutional body.”
However, he later said that he agreed with Dela Rosa. “There are practical reasons for the CHR,” he said. “There are also disadvantage like sometimes people are prevented from doing their jobs because people are afraid of the consequences of the CHR.
“On the whole, I agree with Bato because when we took our oath of office the most important oath is to protect the Constitution… and what’s the most important part of the Constitution? It’s the bill of rights.”
Responding to the president’s words, Mr Gascon said the commission would continue to do its job. “Any discussion to abolish CHR or any other institution for that matter can be taken in the proposed constitutional-reform process,” he said. “In other words, we shall cross the bridge when we get there. I remain hopeful human rights would still be affirmed.”