PRESIDENT-elect Rodrigo Duterte may have asked him to “shut up” and called him an idiot, but Jose Luis Martin Gascon, the intrepid chair of the Commission on Human Rights (CHR), has no plans of quitting even as a matter of courtesy.
“That would mean we lose our independence,” he told the Inquirer.
Gascon has a seven-year term as chair of the CHR, an independent constitutional body; thus, he is not part of the President’s Cabinet and under no compulsion to turn in a courtesy resignation, unlike members of the official family.
“The CHR is a constitutional office. If there’s a reorganization… the process of removing the CHR will have to be done according to the Constitution,” he said.
He began his term in May last year, replacing Loretta Ann Rosales. This means that unless Duterte forcefully tries to remove him or appoint somebody in his place, Gascon may well remain in office for the duration of the President-elect’s term — until May 2022.
Gascon, however, added that the question of whether he would resign was still premature, as Duterte had not expressed any such wish in public.
Asked what he would do if Duterte did try to replace him, the CHR chair was unperturbed, saying: “I will fight it.”
Speaking at the closing ceremony of the CHR’s four-and-a-half year project with Spain’s Agencia Espanola de Cooperacion International para el Desarrollo (AECID), Gascon addressed the “hopes and threats” presented by the approaching Duterte administration.
“We will deal with events and facts as they unfold,” he said.
“If the events and facts suggest that there’s repression rather than protection of human rights, CHR is prepared to stand firm in defense of the promotion and fulfillment of human rights for all people,” Gascon said.
“We can be assured human rights will be defended in the days, weeks and months ahead,” he said.
Even before he has been sworn into office, the sharp-tongued Duterte has already lashed out at Gascon for the latter’s statements calling him out on his pronouncements about an Australian missionary who was raped and killed in 1989.
The outgoing Davao mayor called Gascon “naive” and “an idiot” last month after the CHR issued a ruling that Duterte had violated the Magna Carta of Women (MCW) when he joked that he, as mayor, should have been first to rape the woman.
“Tell him to shut up… That idiot is nitpicking,” Duterte said of Gascon.
In an interview with reporters Wednesday, Gascon said he would not shut up.
“We will continue to monitor and protect human rights if we see abuses, we will stand and fight for human rights. Nothing in our mandate is to shut up,” he said.
As for Duterte’s slur on his mental faculties, he brushed it aside, saying: “Everyone has an opinion on everyone else. We will just respect his opinion and I will perform my job according to the Constitution.”
In the same CHR event, Spanish Ambassador to the Philippines Luis Antonio Calvo Castaño, responding to a question on what he thought of Duterte’s recent provocative remarks on human rights, said he would give Duterte time.
“He has to be given time and margin to prove he is really committed to the conditions of those who are those being kept outside. We feel very encouraged by his record in Davao as mayor for more than 20 years,” the ambassador said.
Castaño, who has not met Duterte, said he would have to first observe “how his presidency evolves.”
The Spanish government, through AECID, funded the CHR with 2.75 million euro or P137 million for the Fortaleza project aimed at strengthening the latter’s mechanisms in promoting human rights.
It sought to achieve two main results: To strengthen the CHR’s capabilities to deliver human rights protection, promotion and policy services, and to build a community and culture of human rights in the Philippines through the establishment of an integrated multi-stakeholders approach program.
The CHR-AECID Fortaleza project significantly helped in the construction of four new regional office buildings located in Cagayan Valley, Central Luzon, Bicol region, and in Soccsksargen.
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