MANILA- The Commission on Human Rights (CHR) insisted Tuesday that it has the Constitutional mandate to investigate cases of human rights abuses by state agents such as policemen and soldiers.
Though there is no evidence yet that would prove that extrajudicial killings reported under the administration's fierce drug war are state-sponsored, the CHR said it would continue its investigation despite President Rodrigo Duterte’s scathing statements against the agency on Monday.
"We are saddened by the pronouncement of the President. The CHR is a very important democratic institution created by the Constitution. Kung ang COA (Commission on Audit) nagi-investigate ng illegal disbursements, ang CHR sa abuse of power," CHR spokesperson Jackie De Guia said.
In a press conference after his second State of the Nation Address, Duterte had said he would not allow his men to be investigated by the CHR and even suggested that the Constitutional body be abolished.
According to the Commission, from May 10, 2016 to March 28, 2017, there have been 516 cases of alleged extrajudicial killings (EJKs) recorded, with a total 646 dead.
Of the cases, 276 happened during police operations, while 240 involved suspected vigilante groups.
The CHR, a constitutional body tasked to investigate human rights violations, has been critical of the President’s bloody crackdown on narcotics.
The agency, however, emphasized that past administrations were also investigated for alleged extrajudicial killings.
During former President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo's administration, the CHR investigated 941 cases with 1,336 victims. During former President Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino's time meanwhile, the CHR investigated 531 cases with 755 victims.
"It is only in this administration that there is a higher surge because of the campaign on drugs, but there is no conclusion yet whether these are state-perpetrated as investigations are ongoing," De Guia said.
The CHR also reiterated that it is a non-partisan body even if it is led by Chito Gascon, a former official of the opposition Liberal Party.
"Nais namin igiit na ang CHR ay non-partisan, wala kaming kinikilingang tao o bahid ng pulitika," De Guia said.
In terms of state funding, the CHR said the Duterte administration ensured that the commission would have a high budget in the coming year, noting that the agency has fiscal autonomy.
The administration has many times denied that it sanctioned executions under the drug war, asserting that drug suspects killed in police operations had resisted arrest and attacked apprehending officers.
In his SONA, Duterte said his anti-narcotics campaign would remain "unrelenting" despite heavy international criticism.
The CHR meanwhile lauded the President for advancing other human rights-related issues in his speech such as migrant workers' welfare and destructive mining.
"Pahabol lang, he also espoused the adherence to rule of law and human rights by advancing the plight of OFW's and the issue on illegal mining," De Guia said.