(Bangkok) – President-elect Ferdinand Marcos Jr. of the Philippines should ensure a transparent, inclusive process to select qualified and independent human rights experts as commissioners for the national Commission on Human Rights (CHR), Human Rights Watch said today. Marcos, who will be inaugurated as the new Philippine president on June 30, 2022, is expected to announce his appointments in the coming days.
The CHR is empowered under the 1987 Philippine Constitution to investigate human rights violations and promote respect for human rights in the country. Marcos ran on a campaign marked by disinformation about his family’s role in human rights abuses during the dictatorship of his father, Ferdinand Marcos Sr., and so the appointment of the commissioners will be an important first test for his administration’s commitment to human rights.
“President-elect Marcos should appoint commissioners with proven track records of defending human rights,” said Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “Given the grave human rights situation in the Philippines, these new commissioners should be independent and strongly committed to fearlessly and impartially upholding the commission’s mandate and duties.”
The term of the five-member commission, the fifth group of commissioners since it was established in 1987, ended in May. The Philippines Constitution prevents the outgoing president, Rodrigo Duterte, from appointing people to executive positions within two months before the presidential election, which took place on May 9. Commissioners are appointed to seven-year terms and cannot be reappointed.
Marcos should convene an independent search committee that will come up with a short list of candidates for commissioners, Human Rights Watch said. This committee should identify individuals with strong human rights backgrounds and credentials. Participation from the Philippines’ human rights community and civil society should be encouraged so they can provide reputable candidates who represent vulnerable sectors, such as people with disabilities, older people, children, and LGBT people. Convening such a search committee will help ensure transparency in the process, Human Rights Watch said.
Although previous administrations formed their own search committees for commission appointees, the process was not transparent, a former commission member told Human Rights Watch. Transparency “is something that we, as an institution and civil society have been pushing for, preferably a panel that can look at the Paris Principles to vet candidates,” the former commissioner said. The Paris Principles, established in 1993, set the criteria for maintaining the independence of national human rights institutions.
The widespread extrajudicial killings, torture, arbitrary detentions, and enforced disappearances during the martial law period from 1972 to 1986 gave impetus for the creation of the CHR following the ousting of Marcos Sr. in the “People Power” uprising in 1986. Few cases have been fully accounted for, with many victims and their families still awaiting justice and compensation.
Marcos Jr. will also inherit the dire human rights situation under Duterte, whose brutal “war on drugs” resulted in the extrajudicial killings of thousands of people since 2016. “Drug war” killings have continued after the May 9 elections, although the number of cases has dropped considerably. The International Criminal Court has opened an investigation into these killings as possible crimes against humanity.
“Marcos is in a strong position to set the Commission on Human Rights in a positive direction for the next seven years by selecting independent, credible rights advocates as commissioners,” Robertson said. “By building up rather than tearing down the commission, Marcos would help dispel people’s fears about human rights under his administration.”