ConCom wants CHR to have its own Witness Protection Program

MANILA — After voting to raise the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) to the status of an independent constitutional body, the expert panel tasked to draft a Federal Constitution wants to give the body its own Witness Protection Program (WPP).

This was among the draft Federal Constitution’s proposed provisions that have yet to be voted on in an en banc session.

Under the 1987 Constitution, it is only the Department of Justice (DOJ) that has a Witness Protection Program.

But former Chief Justice and Chairperson of the Consultative Committee (ConCom) to review the 1987 Constitution Reynato Puno said that it was ineffective when it was government itself that violated human rights.

“Currently, it is only the Department of Justice that has a Witness Protection Program but this Witness Protection Program is ineffective where the perceived violator of human rights is the government itself,” Puno said in a forum at the Manila Hotel.

“To take care of this abnormal situation, it is necessary that a different Witness Protection Program be established and we gave it to the Commission on Human Rights,” he added.

According to Puno, the ConCom decided to allow the CHR to establish a Witness Protection Program for “persons whose testimony is necessary to determine the truth in any investigation.”

Visitorial powers

Aside from having its own WPP, Puno said the CHR will also be given visitorial powers over jails, prisons, and analogous detention facilities.

“There are massive violations of human rights. You can find them in our jails. Our jails are maintained in sub-human conditions,” he said.

“Visitorial powers can be exercised by the Commission on Human Rights without prior notice,” he added, noting that this way, the CHR can diminish human rights violations in jails.

Earlier, the ConCom voted in favor of raising the CHR to the status of an independent constitutional body sans prosecutorial powers to enhance the CHR’s fiscal autonomy.

State, non-state actors covered

Puno also said that under the draft Federal Constitution, the CHR will be mandated to protect not only violations of the rights guaranteed by the Constitution but also violation of rights covered by international human rights covenants and treatises to which the Philippines is a part of.

The ConCom also wanted to empower the CHR to go after all violators of human rights, who shall include not only the state actors but also non-state actors.

Puno said this is expected to change the misconception that only state actors violate human rights.

“The mandate of the commission is to go after state actors like the police and the military that violate human rights and this has earned some vitriolic criticism. We shall end that limitation of power. After all, reality is that a great number of violators of human rights come also from non-state actors,” he said.

Moreover, the ConCom also empowered the CHR to investigate not only violations of civil and political rights of our people but also violations of socioeconomic rights and violations of environmental rights.

This means that the Commission can now investigate those who trample on our people’s right to health, our people’s right to water, and right to healthy environment,” he said.

Puno, meanwhile, expected the ConCom to present the first draft of the proposed Federal Constitution to President Rodrigo R. Duterte this or next week.

CHR welcomes ConCom’s provisions

CHR Commissioner Gwendolyn Pimentel-Gana welcomed the ConCom’s decision to raise the Commission’s status to an independent constitutional body, expand its jurisdiction to go after violators of both state and non-state actors, and create its own WPP.

“We welcome that,” Pimentel-Gana said in an interview with reporters.

“So that it’s clearer, it’s good that they included all the CHR’s functions and duties in the Constitution,” she added.