'The CHR under my leadership would be fair', says Palpal-latoc
MANILA (UPDATE) — The new head of the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) should show independence from Malacañang, where he previously worked, Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan) Secretary General Renato Reyes said Wednesday.
Reyes made the statement a day after the CHR announced the appointment of lawyer Richard Palpal-latoc, a former deputy executive secretary at the office of President Ferdinand Marcos, Jr., as its new chairperson.
"We hope that despite his previous proximity to the halls of power as a Palace official, he will maintain the CHR's independence from Malacanang," Reyes said of Palpal-latoc.
Reyes noted that Palpal-latoc, 48, is the law partner of Vic Rodriguez, who recently resigned as Marcos' Executive Secretary to become Presidential Chief of Staff.
In a separate statement, rights group Karapatan also called on Palpal-latoc and newly appointed CHR Commissioner Beda Epres to "uphold the Commission's mandate and expectations for independence, probity, integrity, and transparency."
In appealing for independence, Reyes stressed the CHR's important role "to hold the previous regime accountable before the ICC for the failed dug war," referring to the International Criminal Court's planned investigation into the bloody drug war during President Rodrigo Duterte's administration.
"There is also the upcoming Universal Periodic Review where the rights record of the Philippines will be scrutinized by the members of the [United Nations] Human Rights Council," he said.
"There are also many human rights complaints by civil society groups that require the response of the CHR," said Reyes, adding that he looks forward to meeting with Palpal-Latoc to talk about the human rights situation in the country.
Karapatan pointed out that the CHR was created in response to the atrocities committed during the martial law period of Ferdinand Marcos Sr., father and namesake of the incumbent chief executive.
"We strongly remind the new appointees of the continuing immense challenges of thousands of victims of human rights violations during the Marcos Sr. dictatorial rule, and their duty to uphold truth, justice and accountability, considering the Commission plays an important role in ensuring that recognition and reparations are accorded to the victims," it said.
Karapatan noted that "no open, transparent and independent process" was conducted in appointing the new officials, a view shared by Human Rights Watch.
"President Ferdinand Marcos, Jr. just slapped victims of human rights abuses in the face with his appointment of a loyalist lawyer with no discernible experience in human rights work as new CHR chair," said Phil Robertson, HRW Deputy Asia Director.
"Quite clearly, Marcos has failed this important early test about his commitment on human rights despite his flowery words at the UN General Assembly about ushering in a 'new' Philippines. The appointment process was totally opaque, lacked any sort of consultation and raises fundamental questions about whether Marcos is embarking on a process to gut the CHR as an independent and impartial body empowered to investigate rights abuses without fear or favor of those in power," he added.
Robertson said Palpal-latoc "will have a steep hill to climb to demonstrate that he deserves to sit in that chair, and that he knows up from down about the Philippines' International commitments on human rights."
Karapatan said it will continue to engage with the incoming new members of the Commission "especially in pursuing justice and accountability of the previous Duterte administration and other administrations."
Palpal-latoc and Epres form part of the commission's 6th en banc, along with three commissioners that have yet to be announced.
Asked to comment on the challenge posed by the groups for him, Palpal-latoc told reporters at the Senate, "I issue the assurance that the CHR under my leadership would be fair, just and would render speedy justice to all. That is the only promise that I can give to the public."
"I serve with utmost dedication, unquestionable probity and speedy disposition of cases. I assure that,” he added.
Palpal-latoc, who previously worked at the Department of Social Welfare and Development and the Office of the Ombudsman, disclosed that he applied for his new position out of his concern for neglected and abused children and women.
In early June, Marcos Jr., then the country's presumptive president, had raised the importance of "accountability in terms of human rights" when he met with UN Resident Coordinator in the Philippines Gustavo Gonzalez.
He had also said he would prioritize the rehabilitation of drug users and veer away from the violent drug war policy of Duterte, father of Vice President Sara Duterte.
The Marcos family is hounded by allegations of rights abuses committed during the dictatorship of its late patriarch.
Some 11,000 people were identified as victims of rape, mutilation, psychological and emotional abuse, arbitrary detention, forced exile and extrajudicial killings at the start of Martial Law in 1972 until the family's ouster in 1986, according to the Human Rights Violations Victims' Memorial Commission.
- with reports from Jaehwa Bernardo and Sherrie Ann Torres, ABS-CBN News