MANILA – (UPDATED 1:53 P.M) Commission on Human Rights chairman Chito Gascon is “definitely not” a pedophile, and the term cannot be used, even as a metaphor, to describe his zeal in seeking independent investigations into recent cases of teenage boys being killed by the police.
The categorical defense of the beleaguered chair, whose agency last week was slapped by the House of Representatives with a P1,000 budget for 2018, comes from a member of the collegial, constitutional body: Commissioner Gwen Pimentel-Gana.
Asked for comment on President Rodrigo Duterte’s latest tirade describing Gascon as a “pedophile” for his focus on the killings of several young males, Pimentel-Gana said: “I know that Chito Gascon is not a pedophile, definitely not.” She explained Gascon’s seeming obsession with the rash of schoolboy killings as part of his mandate as CHR chair and his background as activist and human-rights advocate: “He fights for the weak and vulnerable,” Pimentel-Gana said said in a radio interview.
The term “pedophile,” she stressed, “cannot be used as a metaphor,” apparently in expectation of the usual Palace defense of the President’s controversial remarks: that he often cracks jokes, speaks in metaphors and employs sarcasm.
Asked by a DZBB anchor if she had a message for the CHR bashers, including House leaders who had pushed for the majority vote to punish the agency with the P1,000 budget, Pimentel-Gana urged bashers to look at the CHR mandate and understand it.
“They should look at our mandate, what we are supposed to do and what we’re actually doing, and please understand it. And if sometimes they think we’re bearing down hard on government, it’s part of our mandate to also watch what government is doing,” she said, speaking mostly in Filipino.
“Wala kaming agenda na ibagsak ang gobyerno [We have no agenda to bring down the government],” the CHR official added.
In fact, she pointed out, the CHR appreciates quick action by the police hierarchy on wrongdoing in the PNP ranks, as what happened with the sacking of the entire, 1,000-man Caloocan police force amid a series of scandals.
The Caloocan police was embroiled in the deaths of students Kian Lloyd delos Santos, Carl Angelo Arnaiz, and the disappearance of Reynaldo de Guzman, whose body was found in a creek in Gapan, Nueva Ecija.
Pimentel-Gana praised the chief of the National Capital Region Police Office (NCRPO), Gen. Oscar Albayalde, who relieved and ordered the retraining of the entire Caloocan force after the furor over the teen killings was compounded by the raid – without search warrant – of the house of an old woman on a tip she was involved in drug deals. CCTV captured images of dozens of cops involved in a raid that ended with the robbery of the old woman’s belongings.
“We saw how quickly they moved on the Caloocan case, and I am pleased with . . . NCRPO chief General Albayalde,” said Pimentel-Gana.
“I really believe in the goodness of the police and I know they’re there to protect and to serve,” she added.
What is important, she said, is to ensure wrongdoing by policemen is stopped and punished.
Appoint ‘face’ of CHR to shield it from political color
Meanwhile, Sen. Win Gatchalian suggested that CHR appoint a “neutral spokesperson or neutral figurehead” to be the face of the CHR so as not to draw so much attention to personalities, particularly Chairman Gascon.
Gatchalian said that while Gascon has done nothing to indicate he is unqualified or has done anything illegal, politics unavoidably seeps into the picture each time he is projected into the limelight because of his “past party links and high-profile” role in the Liberal Party. Gatchalian noted that before his appointment for the fixed tenure at CHR, Gascon had a high position in the party of then-President Benigno Aquino III.
The issue at hand, said Gatchalian, is: How effectively can the agency carry out its mandate, and avoid politics tainting statements and pronouncements of CHR?
Duterte: Use CHR budget for police cameras
On Saturday (Sept. 16), President Duterte had publicly hurled a question at Gascon, asking if he was a pedophile for focusing on the killing of teenagers in the government’s bloody war on drugs.
Duterte also suggested to lawmakers using CHR’s proposed P678-million budget to buy the police body cameras if they don’t want to restore funding for the agency, which he has clashed with repeatedly over his anti-drugs campaign.
The CHR requested a budget of P1.72 billion for 2018, but the government proposed 678 million instead. Duterte’s allies in the lower house of Congress then voted to allocate it just 1,000 pesos ($20), in what critics of the drugs war said was retaliation for its efforts to investigate thousands of killings in the past 15 months, including those of two teenagers in August.
“Why is this guy so pre…suffocated with the issue of young people, especially boys? Are you a pedophile?” Duterte asked, referring to CHR head Chito Gascon.
“Why are you smitten with teenagers? Are you? I‘m having my doubts. Are you gay or a pedophile?,” he said.
Gascon did not immediately reply to a request for comment.
Duterte also accused Gascon of being a spokesman for the opposition and criticized his scrutiny of police anti-drug activities.
“Why can’t you move on to other issues that are besetting this country?” Duterte said, citing the suffering of the people in the besieged southern city of Marawi.
Critics say police are executing suspects, and say the government has what is effectively a kill policy. Duterte has rejected that, and police say they kill only in self-defense.
The CHR has long said it lacks the manpower and resources to fully investigate the killings, the majority of which activists say are of users and small-time peddlers, with few high-profile arrests.
Vice President Leni Robredo, who was not Duterte’s running mate and has locked horns with him numerous times, said the lawmakers’ move regarding CHR’s budget effectively abolishes the constitutional body.
Filipinos are largely supportive of the crackdown as a solution to tackling rampant crime, which Duterte says stems from drug addiction.
Duterte reiterated there will be no let up in the campaign, which he said was targeted at organized criminals trafficking drugs and not at “teenagers without a sin.”