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CHR head Gascon now the biggest threat to human rights

For the good of the country, he must resign
IRONIC as it may seem, it is Jose “Chito” Gascon, the Commission on Human Rights chairman that President Benigno Aquino 3rd appointed in June 2015, who has emerged as the biggest stumbling block to the development of institutions and a political culture that would defend human rights in this country.

I base this conclusion on the following arguments:

Gascon, the last straggler of the Yellow Party still in government, has politicized the issue of human rights in the Philippines, and has transformed it into a propaganda weapon against President Duterte. He is the very first CHR chairman since the agency’s establishment in 1987 to do so, to have adopted an openly belligerent stance against the incumbent administration.

• As such, Gascon’s thrust and activities since Duterte took power hasn’t been to build up the institutions necessary to propagate a culture of respect for human rights. It has been to paint this administration as a wanton violator of human rights, mainly by convincing foreign bodies to believe so. His real agenda is to convince Filipinos to rise up against Duterte and restore Yellow rule.

• Gascon and the CHR he leads now have therefore lost their credibility as human rights (HR) champions, with their accusations of HR violations received with such suspicion and cynicism, that little has been done to develop respect for human rights in the country, and to instill fear in those who would violate such rights. Because of his politicized stance, Gascon has been unable to get the cooperation from other government agencies, to the detriment of human rights in the country.

Every time I see a photo of Gascon, I can see either former President Aquino 3rd or Mar Roxas or Sen. Franklin Drilon at his back as ghosts whispering to him, how to hit the government.

Gascon is, as it were, the Liberal Party’s remaining ranking cadre still ensconced in a government agency with a budget of P500 million yearly, and which has been paying him P4 million annually. (His salary grade of 31 is just two notches lower than the President’s 33.)

Gascon and the Liberal Party bosses behind him.

He was the executive director of the Liberal Party’s think tank, the National Institute for Policy Studies, the director general of the Liberal Party from 2008 to 2011, and the political director of its 2010 electoral campaign. After that, he was at Aquino’s beck and call in the Office of the President at the same time that he was a board member of the Bases Conversion Development Authority.

As Yellow as can be
In short, Gascon is as Yellow as can be, and the Yellow Cult’s big hope of killing Duterte with a thousand human-rights-violations cuts.

Not only has his party loyalty determined his stance and actions. Gascon has that kind of Manichaean and messianic world view so typical of activists who went against Marcos only when it was clear the dictatorship would be collapsing.

As Marcos was the Evil Lord he helped defeat, Duterte is now for Gascon the Dark King he will overthrow, as he practically stated in his oh-so melodramatic speech at the CHR’s recent anniversary:

“We have entered a period of darkness, the sun is gone, night has fallen. Although we are a tropical country, winter has come. It is in this period of darkness that we shall all be tested as we fight for human rights. “

This is a guy who must have watched too many Game of Thrones episodes, or think of himself as the Aragorn who would defeat the Dark Lord Saruman. That line “night has fallen”, if you will remember, was exactly the headline of Time magazine cover story that was one of the first hatchet jobs abasing Duterte.

My sources have informed me it is Gascon himself who has been feeding the foreign and a section of the local press, mainly the Philippine Daily Inquirer and Rappler (both of which have had puff pieces on him), with material they could use to portray government as waging a ruthless war against illegal drugs and grossly violating Filipinos’ human rights.

Gascon also teamed up with the Free Legal Aid Group (FLAG) lawyers to assist former Davao police officer Arturo Lascañas in his campaign to claim that Duterte himself participated in the Davao Death Squad. One can’t underestimate Gascon’s skill in conspiracies: He was the Liberal Party operator that plotted the breakaway from former President Gloria Arroyo of the traitorous Hyatt 10 which, if not for that President’s grit would have meant the collapse of her government.

Gascon and Callamard
It was Gascon who invited UN Special Rapporteur Agnes Callamard to give a speech at the CHR’s anniversary event. Callamard has been so obnoxiously critical of the country’s war against drugs there is a tsunami of outrage against her. It was even the CHR that paid Callamard’s air fare and five-star accommodation.

One demonstration of Gascon’s propaganda expertise was when his staff brought media to a cell in a precinct in Tondo which was blown up to be portrayed as “secret cells”. The connotation of course was that since the detainees were concealed, they would be executed soon. The “raid” was undertaken in the evening when it would be dark outside the window, which therefore made it appear closed, necessary for such a cell to be kept secret. Daytime photos of the cell though show a huge window with bars. And that operation was timed during the Asean Summit.

Such an issue of course wasn’t new, as the nation has been shocked in the past several months by photos of horrific overcrowding in jails not only in Manila but in Cebu City. But if Gascon was authentically concerned about this, he could have asked his staff to prepare a detailed study on how much there is of such overcrowding, and propose a plan to be submitted to Congress which can fund the building of more jails.

The task of creating institutions and a political culture that upholds the rights of each individual is a daunting and really tedious one, which took the West generations to achieve. Who wouldn’t want such respect for human rights?

But this cannot be done in the way Gascon assumes that Duterte has adopted a state policy of violating human rights, so that his response would be to discredit him so much he would be toppled, to be replaced by a lover of human rights, who of course would be a Liberal Party loyalist.

Such a task requires painstaking work outside the glare of news media. Among these: working with the police to undertake continuous education on the importance of human rights; the strengthening of the police internal affairs offices (or even the establishment of human rights desks, as in the case of their women’s desks); working with Congress so it could pass the laws necessary for human rights (or just allocate a bigger budget to build proper jails); and most importantly, the rigorous investigation and prosecution of cases of human rights violations as a deterrent.

But that won’t seem to be glorious enough tasks for Gascon.

If he still has an ember of patriotism and has real concern for human rights, Gascon should resign as CHR head, before his term ends in 2022. I’m sure with his talent, he can recoup elsewhere the P4 million he is getting from the agency. If he decides to be kapit-tuko, to use that Filipino term, I hope the other four commissioners and even the CHR staff revolt against this Yellow straggler.

Duterte I’m sure can find many Filipinos with a real concern for human rights.