The Best Things We Learned From Chito Gascon's Online Town Hall
Human rights is a complex, abstract concept, so it's no surprise that so many people are led astray about its principles and about the mandate of our Commission on Human Rights (CHR). That's probably one of the reasons Chairman Chito Gascon agreed to field questions in a town-hall style forum on Reddit. (If you may recall, Senator Antonio Trillanes IV hosted a similar Ask Me Anything session a few months ago.)
Gascon's funny responses have been highlighted elsewhere (he thinks Ian Veneracion should play him, if it came to that), but the beleaguered chairman of the beleaguered office covered a lot of ground. So, in case you missed it, here's some of what we picked up from Gascon's AMA:
On whether criminal cases are part of the CHR's responsibility:
GASCON: Normal criminal cases are primarily a police matter, but the CHR remains concerned about all violations, and will point it out to the State when it falls short in respecting, protecting, and fulfilling human rights. We need to understand that the CHR is not a police or law enforcement institution. It is primarily a watchdog and monitoring institution, to remind the State of its obligations with regards to human rights in all circumstances.
[I]t goes this way: the Constitution mandates protection for human rights of all people, but it should be clear that it is the State that has an obligation to respect, protect, and fulfill those human rights. So, the mandate of the CHR is to monitor the State's compliance with this obligation, and it does so by looking into the actions or inactions of State bodies.
When it is the State itself that violates human rights, the CHR directly calls out those violations committed by the State. When non-State actors violate human rights, it is principal duty of the State to respond to that (i.e. law enforcement, protection mechanisms, prosecution.) And so, when the State fails in performing this duty, we call that out too.
On applying human rights principles equally:
GASCON: Agree naman tayo d'yan. Basta malinaw lang ang iba't ibang tungkulin ng ahensya within the Constitutional framework. That it is the State that has the duty to respect the human rights of all people. And it's the Commission's duty to remind the State of its obligations when it falls short.
On fighting trolls:
GASCON: Yes, with your help we can counter the negative propaganda again human rights and the CHR and we do so one day at a time, one person at a time. Have faith that the pendulum will swing back to some degree of equilibrium, even if it doesn't look that way right now. The best way to fight for human rights is to continue to push back against all form of violations thereof, so in due time, in due course, legal remedies against all violators will ultimately be pursued.
On citizen support for the CHR:
GASCON: I'm all for building more solidarity and I'm open to ideas on what we can do together. Because so many people have been pledging money as a result of that one-thousand peso episode, we are now brainstorming a way to tap into that goodwill so that people can contribute for human rights even if not directly to CHR. So please continue generating ideas and email them to [email protected]
On Internet access as a human right:
GASCON: Well, the CHR is currently having meetings and discussions with different stakeholders in the field of what is called digital rights. Essentially involved in creating a legal framework to ensure that human rights that are enjoyed in the real world might also be fully enjoyed in the digital world.
But, in terms of putting pressure on the ISPs to deliver better services, I think this is best pursued by the appropriate government agencies, such as DICT and NTC.
GASCON: Yes, federalism was brought up in the 1986 ConCon [to which Gascon was a delegate—ed.], but at that time it was not fully understood, so it was not supported by the majority in that body. I was one of only three persons who advocated it then, because I thought of federalism to devolve power to the local level under the principal which is called subsidiarity.
I still believe in that principle where local power should be given more authority to deal with local problems. However, I have to raise some concerns or caution about the current discussions about Constitutional Reform because I think that it could be something of a Trojan Horse, whereby rather than more democracy, we might actually have less democracy as a result of this current move for constitutional change.
On enduring heavy political opposition:
GASCON: By keeping the faith. Following your True North. All these things shall pass. Never doubt your convictions.