Tag Archives: Joaquin Bernas

[Blogger] Expanding the Mandate of CHR: Can a toothless tiger bite with false teeth?

Expanding the Mandate of the Commission on Human Rights:
Can a toothless tiger bite with false teeth?
by Darwin Mendiola – Carpe Diem

The human rights situation in every country is gauged not only on how its governments have performed its primary duties to promote, protect and fulfill the basic human rights of its every citizen by putting in place in its policies and programs, measures and mechanisms that guarantee redress and accountability, but also on the performance of a well functioning national human rights institutions (NHRIs) which are in charge with the compliance monitoring of the human rights performance of the states.

The role of NHRIs in fostering a culture of human rights promotion and protection has been widely recognized in recent years. It goes without saying that these days every country has to have a national human rights commission if it is really committed to human rights.

However, many governments have established their own human rights commissions just for the purpose of improving their international reputation and shielding themselves from international criticisms and scrutiny for committing gross violations of human rights. In fact, the NHRIs that have shown high level of effectiveness and independence are mostly those where its governments have the strong commitment to human rights compared to those NHRIs in countries where human rights are most seriously violated.

Philippines is said to be exceptional for having a very dynamic NHRI. The Commission on Human Rights of the Philippines (CHRP), an independent constitutional body enshrined under the 1987 Philippine Constitution, was created in 1987 with the issuance of its legislative charter, Executive Order No. 163. Its present proactive stance is said to have inspired the Filipino people to look at it as the protector and promoter of human rights in the country.

However, many are still of the opinion that even if the CHRP carries out its function well, if its powers are limited, it will still be incapable of curbing human rights transgressions. This is not mainly on the issue of having a limited power but more specifically on its defined focal functions which hardly met the criteria set forth by the Paris Principles. Although, much of the discussions on NHRI’s performance audit using this international criteria have been largely normative and legal. What I am more concerned with is its practical performance or on how it really carries its mandates and functions.

The Paris Principles require that NHRI must have a broad mandate as possible which mean the unrestricted power to promote and protect human rights. The Commission has various powers and functions as enumerated in the 1987 Constitution, among which is the power to investigate, on its own or on complaint by any party, all forms of human rights violations involving civil and political rights. Its principal function therefore is primarily investigatory. But this investigative power of the CHRP has been the main subject of criticisms by various sectors due to generally two reasons. First, the mere investigatory power does not give the much needed teeth that can forestall human rights violation nor provide redress for misdeed. Secondly, it is limited to political and civil rights and excludes the vast area of economic, social and cultural rights.

The reason for this according the Constitutional expert Fr. Joaquin Bernas, SJ was that the desire of the 1986 Constitutional Commission is not to overburden the Commission during its initial years and this limitation does not exclude the possibility of expanding the Commission’s scope. This is said to pose no serious problem to the Commission as it has able to transcend over the years this constitutional limitation by issuing resolutions that clearly differentiated the investigation for purposes of prosecution for civil and political violations and investigative monitoring on economic, social and cultural issues. It has even used such issues to remind the government on its obligations emanating pertinent international human rights treaties in which Philippines is a State party.

The local lawyers group, Libertas in its 2010 ANNI Report entitled, Philippines: A Time of Great Irony concluded that “the Commission on Human Rights of the Philippines which once taunted as a ‘toothless tiger’, began to roar.” It was during the iniquitous Arroyo administration where the spate of unlawful killings and enforced disappearances has reached an alarming proportion that the Commission made use of its investigative power to bring human rights violations to the fore. It held public inquiries, fact finding missions and special operations to ferret out the truth behind alleged state abuses.

Hence, the need to grant the Commission the power to prosecute and adjudicate or even to the extent of converting it to a quasi-judicial body is now seriously being considered. For two decades, several bills have been filed in Congress seeking to enhance the Commission’s independence through an amendment to its legislative charter but until now it is yet to be enacted by the Philippine Congress. One suggested reform is to provide the Commission with a “standby prosecutorial powers” in cases of failure by the government prosecution body to act on human rights violations.

However despite this noble intention, others believed that the grant of such power will mean the change the nature of the CHRP as provided for in the Constitution since it may undermine its status as an independent constitutional body and as result it may clash with other prosecutorial agencies such as the Department of Justice and Ombudsman. I believe that the difference in the prosecutorial functions of the CHRP to that of other prosecutorial agencies can be best resolved by clearly defining the scope and limitations of such functions. What bothers me is the tendency of the CHRP to mistakenly identify a mere criminal offense to that of human rights violation especially if it involves non-State actor. If this is the case, perhaps CHRP should push for the enactment of a “Code on Human Rights Violation” which will delineate the distinction between the commission of a criminal act punishable by law from the violation of human rights. This is very important for the CHRP to effectively perform its prosecutorial functions.

The Paris Principles provide that NHRI should investigate and report upon potential human rights violations at the request of government or any interested party or on its own initiative. But even if the present and previous CHR’s leadership has shown activism and independence, the institution remains largely a part of the government’s bureaucracy that work on an eight to five o’clock basis and remains inept to take prompt action on urgent issues especially those situated in different regions. How if the violation is committed during weekends? It is short of saying that CHRP should set up a call center which will advice the callers that CHRP personnel will get back to them as soon as they have reported in the office. The Commission’s complaint-handling and investigation processes based on the actual experiences of human rights organizations reveal a lack of coherent policies and in most cases have undermined its effectiveness.

The CHRP as an investigative and soon as a prosecutorial body should provide a coherent procedural policies and create quick reaction teams if it accepts the need to have strong “teeth” because if not, it may find itself biting with false teeth while roaring with regrets.

The CHRP’s performance if based on the Paris Principles for me is yet to get off the mark in terms of its mandate and functions. Although, I know that there are several factors that need to be discussed as vital point of references to really come up with an objective assessment of CHRP’s performance but let me reserve those issues on my next blog article.

[In the news] Fr. Joaquin Bernas writes ‘talking points’ on RH Bill | Sun.Star

Fr. Joaquin Bernas writes ‘talking points’ on RH Bill | Sun.Star.

MANILA — Catholic bishops expressed willingness to sit down and meet with noted constitutionalist Fr. Joaquin Bernas after he announced his position on the controversial Reproductive Health (RH) bill, a Church official said.

Monsignor Juanito Figura, secretary general of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP), said the bishops are interested to hear Bernas’s “talking points” on House Bill 4244, which is currently debated in Congress.

In an opinion piece for the Philippine Daily Inquirer last May 23, Bernas said neither the government nor the Church has the right to stop people from practicing responsible parenthood whichever way they prefer.

“Public money is neither Catholic, nor Protestant, nor Muslim or what have you and may be appropriated by Congress for the public good without violating the Constitution,” he said.

The long-time dean of the Ateneo de Manila University Law School also acknowledged that the bill in its present form needs amendment, and he is willing “to contribute to its improvement.”

Consistent to Catholic Church teachings, Bernas expressed his opposition to sex education in public schools “without the consent of parents” and support for the provision that strengthens the illegality of abortion.

Quoting the Compendium on the Social Teaching of the Catholic Church, he said that the government’s responsibility is to interpret the good of everyone and “not only according to the guidelines of the majority.”

However, what drew impassioned criticism from many anti-RH bill advocates and even Church officials is Bernas’s dismay at priests who say supporting the measure is a serious sin and called them as “irresponsible.”

“I have been called a Judas by a high-ranking cleric, I am considered a heretic in a wealthy barangay where some members have urged that I should leave the Church (which is insane),” Bernas lamented, whose article spawned 8,335 Facebook “recommends” and 1,729 shares as of press time.

In the end, Figura believes that as a priest, Bernas is still “pro-life and he is towards the anti-RH bill side.”

Meanwhile, a non government organization has called on the voting public to “learn its lesson” in the next elections and withdraw support from politicians who proposed measures that restrict access to contraceptives.

According to EnGende-Rights, these legislators include Senators Juan Ponce Enrile, Ralph Recto and Ramon “Bong” Revilla Jr., and Reps. Roilo Golez (Paranaque), Pablo Garcia (Cebu), Rufus Rodirguez (Cagayan de Oro) and Amado Bagatsing (Manila).

“Those who believe in respecting, promoting, and upholding the rights of women should use their power as citizens to vote for people who will uphold the rights of women. Women are the ones who bear the brunt of the delayed passage of the RH (reproductive health) law and any restriction on their access to the full range of contraceptive methods,” lawyer Clara Rita Padilla, Executive Director of EnGendeRights, said in a press statement.

On Monday, the Senate bills providing for the safety and protection of the unborn will be heard in the Committees on Youth, Women and Family Relations, Constitutional Amendments, and Revision of Codes and Laws.

Last week, the anti-choice bill of Rep. Bagatsing was heard in the House Committee on Revision of Laws with Golez, Garcia, and Rodriguez supporting it. (Virgil Lopez and Kathrina Alvarez/Sunnex)

[In the news] Father Bernas calls some anti-RH clerics ‘irresponsible’ – Nation – GMA News Online – Latest Philippine News

Father Bernas calls some anti-RH clerics ‘irresponsible’ – Nation – GMA News Online – Latest Philippine News.


Amid the rising chorus of anti-Reproductive Health (RH) Bill rhetoric of his fellow clergymen, prominent Jesuit priest Joaquin Bernas, SJ sings a different tune.

In his column on Inquirer.Net on Monday, Bernas declared, “I have never held that the RH Bill is perfect. But if we have to have an RH law, I intend to contribute to its improvement as much as I can.”

Fr. Joaquin Bernas. File phoro source ccp.edu.ph

He also disagreed with “churchmen (who) compel President Aquino, by whatever means, to prevent people from acting according to their religious belief.”

Bernas is a constitutional lawyer, member of the 1987 Constitutional Commission. , and former Ateneo Law School dean, As a priest and a respected intellectual, Bernas has been a thorn in the side of the anti-RH camp by criticizing Church opposition to the RH Bill as a violation of religious freedom.

His most recent column was partly a defense from criticism by conservative Catholics, including a “high-ranking cleric” who called him Judas. But we also went on the offense.,

In the column titled “My Stand on the RH Bill,” Bernas branded as “irresponsible” clerics who say that support for the RH Bill is a serious sin and lauded the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) for “[disowning] the self-destructive views of some clerics.”

He also referred to some critics of the bill as “attack dogs.”

Bernas’ column is usually a cerebral take on affairs of the state that perhaps fellow academics can best appreciate.

But reflecting the increasingly fevered public interest in the RH issue, his latest column has gone viral, with nearly 5,000 Facebook “recommends” as of Tuesday morning and nearly 1,500 Twitter shares.

Freedom of religion

Bernas put his views in context by pointing out that the Philippines is a pluralist society which should support not only the freedom to believe but the “freedom to act or not to act according to what one believes.”

Thus, Bernas argued, neither the government nor the church has the right to stop people from practicing responsible parenthood whichever way they prefer.

Citing the “Compendium on Social Teaching of the Catholic Church,” Bernas explained that the state ought to decide based not only on the majority, but the minority as well.

For Bernas, spending public money to promote public health does not violate the Constitution, contrary to the argument of some anti-RH activists.

Public money is neither Catholic, nor Protestant, nor Muslim or what have you and may be appropriated by Congress for the public good without violating the Constitution,” he said.

Opposes mandatory sex education
Bernas also showed his more conservative side by declaring his opposition to mandated sex education in public schools and his support for the provision that strengthens the illegality of abortion.

For him, parents must give consent to the classes beforehand, citing Article II, Section 12 of the Constitution on “the natural and primary right of parents in the rearing of the youth for civic efficiency and the development of moral character.”

He also reiterated his definition of abortion. “Sacred life begins at fertilization and not at implantation,” he said.

Finally, Bernas emphasized how the bill would protect the nation’s poor women, according to the bill’s Declaration of Policy and Guiding Principles. “They should be saved,” he said.

RH bill dividing Catholics

Bernas’ column came a day after another cleric, the conservative retired Bishop Teodoro Bacani made waves during Sunday evening’s RH Bill Grand Debate on GMA News TV with his confrontational demeanor on stage.

On Monday meanwhile, a member of the clergy called for “sobriety” on the issue after other members of the Catholic Church escalated their attacks on the RH Bill.

In a pastoral statement, Lingayen-Dagupan Archbishop Socrates Villegas said that the ongoing debate on the bill was putting Catholics at “odds” with each other.

He defended the Church’s stand, saying that it was not trying to further inflame the situation but to make an appeal “for the triumph of reason and sobriety.”

Giving Catholicism a bad name

Earlier, Bernas had written a blog entry saying that a sector of the Church is giving the Catholic religion a bad name by imposing their beliefs on everyone.

Bernas was reacting to a Barangay Ayala Alabang ordinance that required a doctor’s prescription for the purchase of artificial contraception, such as condoms.

The CBCP has since stopped formal dialogues with both the Palace and the Senate on the RH Bill.

However, CBCP public relations unit head Bishop Deogracias Iñiguez Jr. said on Monday that they are still open to talks on the bill, barring some “non-negotiables.”

Debate for the House of Representatives’ version of the RH Bill began last week while the Senate is scheduled to begin RH debates by August. – HS, GMA News