By Mario Casayuran
Neophyte Senator Christopher Lawrence “Bong” T. Go has asked the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) to explain public perception that it only focuses on the due process and rights of drug lords and ruthless criminals.
“Which do you value more – the lives of innocent Filipinos or the lives of criminals?” Go asked the CHR during the Senate plenary debate on the agency’s proposed P863,138,000 budget for 2020. Despite Go’s questions, the CHR’s budget was eventually approved.
Go, chairman of the Senate Committee on Health and chairman of a Senate Finance sub-committee, observed that “the CHR seemingly values the rights and lives of drug criminals over those of their innocent victims.”
“Paano naman ang mga inosenteng biktima ng mga kriminal na lulong sa iligal na droga (What about the victims of criminals under the influence of drugs)?” Go asked CHR Chairman Chito Gascon.
Gascon was allowed to answer Go directly via a motion to suspend the rules of the Senate so that the sponsor need not answer on behalf of the CHR.
“Isang tanong lang po, ano ang mas importante sa inyo: buhay ng inosenteng Pilipino o buhay ng mga criminal (What is more important, the life of an innocent Filipino or the life of the criminals.)?” he asked.
Gascon assured Go that they do not take sides and would be neutral in their investigations, saying the commission “is an independent, non-partisan oversight institution.”
Go then asked the CHR not to be selective when conducting their investigations on the alleged human rights violations in the war on drugs.
“I’m all for due process and investigating abuses. I’m all for accountability. Pero sana, hindi (I hope, you will not be) selective,” Go said addressing his Senate colleagues.
“There are two sides (of the) fence, tingnan natin parehas. ‘Wag tayong mag-focus sa isang side lang kasi (We should not focus on one side only because) there are always multiple versions of the truth. We must be neutral,” the senator added.
Go also questioned how the CHR utilizes its budget, asking: “How much of the budget of CHR is being used to defend criminals? Meron pa bang natitira to defend innocent victims (Is there anything left to defend innocent victims)?”
Highlighting that part of the functions of the CHR is to investigate “all forms of human rights violations including civil and political rights, whether they are committed by public officers or by civilians or rebels,” Go then asked why the commission seemingly focuses on human rights of drug criminals rather than their innocent victims.
“Napapansin ko lang, mas hinahabol niyo ‘yung law enforcers tuwing meron silang napapatay na mga kriminal. Even the President of the Philippines ay hinahabol ninyo, binabatikos ninyo tuwing may namamatay na criminal (I have observed that the CHR goes after law enforcers every time there is a criminal killed. You even run after President Duterte, you criticize him every time there is a criminal killed),” he said.
“How much of the P863,138,000 will be used by the CHR for the investigation of all forms of human rights violations involving civil and political rights?” he asked.
Go pointed out that the government’s strong stance and campaign against illegal drugs has been met positively, especially by families of overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) who make up a significant portion of those affected by the drug menace.
“These (OFW) families have been telling us that the fact this administration is taking a hardline stance to address the age-old drug problem is good for them, as they know that, finally, the government is stepping in to stop this menace,” Go explained, stating that the drug war is one of the reasons OFWs favor President Duterte.
“Ang sa akin lang, ayokong masira ng droga ang mga pamilyang ito (I don’t want an OFW family fall victim to drug-related violence). Even just one broken family due to drugs is one too many,” Go added.
Go then asked anew how much of CHR’s budget would be used “to assist and help these private individuals attain justice and mend their shattered families to be whole again.”
He also asked how much of the commission’s budget would be allotted to provide legal aid and preventive measures “to the underprivileged Filipinos residing in the Philippines and abroad whose human rights have been violated or need protection,” especially those involved in the illegal drug abuse.
Go also questioned the inaction of the CHR in resolving drug-related human rights violations in the country in the past.