Watchdogs on 2 new CHR execs: No rights work credentials
MANILA, Philippines — President Ferdinand Marcos Jr.’ two appointees to the Commission on Human Rights (CHR), including its new chief Richard Palpal-Latoc, a law partner and former deputy of recently resigned Executive Secretary Victor Rodriguez, have stoked skepticism among rights advocates.
They noted that neither of the two appointees has any known background in human rights work.
Watchdog groups welcomed Malacañang’s decision to fill the monthslong vacancies in the CHR, a constitutional body created in response to human rights abuses during the Marcos dictatorship, but they voiced reservations about the two newcomers’ ability and commitment to their roles.
Palpal-Latoc “seems to be a political appointee [considering] his background working for Marcos Jr. through Rodriguez; and both appear not to have any background or public positions on human rights issues,” Karapatan secretary general Cristina Palabay said.
Mincing no words, Human Rights Watch (HRW) deputy Asia director Phil Robertson called the appointments a “slap to victims of human rights abuses in the face” and described Palpal-Latoc as a “loyalist lawyer with no discernible experience in human rights work.”
On Tuesday night, the CHR announced that Palpal-Latoc, who last served as deputy executive secretary for legal affairs under Rodriguez, would lead the CHR’s sixth en banc commission, succeeding Jose Luis Martin “Chito” Gascon, a lifelong activist and human rights champion who died in October 2021.
Only one other commissioner of the five-member body has been named: lawyer Beda Angeles Epres, a former career servant in the Office of the Ombudsman.
CHR Executive Director Jacqueline de Guia, who had served as caretaker for the headless CHR since May, said the agency would “look forward to the direction of the institution under Chairperson Palpal-Latoc’s leadership.”
“Marking its 35th year, Chairperson Palpal-Latoc assured further strengthening CHR, particularly its mandates on human rights protection, promotion, policy and prevention, to create a lasting legacy and meaningful impact in the lives of each and every Filipino,” she said.
Palpal-Latoc and Epres will serve a seven-year term from 2022 to 2029.
They take the helm of the CHR during a critical time as it navigates a possible International Criminal Court inquiry into alleged crimes against humanity during the Duterte administration’s drug war, and the agency’s application to be accredited again as a Status A national human rights institute under the Paris Principles adopted by the UN General Assembly in 1995.
The body will also be closely watched as it observes and responds to Marcos’ human rights record, coming decades after his late father’s brutal regime.
Among other concerns, Palabay noted that the appointment of Palpal-Latoc and Epres was “not transparent and without consultation, especially with human rights groups.”
Marcos signed their appointment papers on Sept. 15.
Palpal-Latoc is one of the partners of the Rodriguez Esquivel Palpal-Latoc law firm, along with Rodriguez, Marcos’ new chief of staff. Rodriguez quit as the “little president” on Sept. 17 following controversies over his alleged roles in the sugar importation fiasco and a bribery scheme involving presidential appointments.
Palpal-Latoc, who finished philosophy and law at the University of Santo Tomas, previously worked as a lawyer for the Department of Social Welfare and Development in Calabarzon and for the Ombudsman.
Before he became deputy executive secretary, he sat as assistant city prosecutor in Quezon City.
In August, he was assigned to lead a Palace inquiry into the sugar importation mess under Rodriguez’s office.
Palabay said her group “will continue to engage with the incoming new members of the commission especially in pursuing justice and accountability of the previous Duterte administration and in the continuing defense of people’s rights, welfare and dignity.”
Emulate his predecessors
Robertson said Palpal-Latoc would “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.”
Bayan secretary general Renato Reyes said he hoped that the new CHR head would maintain the body’s independence “despite his previous proximity to the halls of power as a Palace official.”
“The new chair can emulate his predecessors like Jose W. Diokno, Leila de Lima and Chito Gascon,” he said.
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