CHR admits it’s helpless vs. election-related violence
By Reynaldo C. Santos Jr.
MANILA, Philippines—Commission on Human Rights (CHR) chairman Leila De Lima admitted the agency is helpless in addressing election-related killings and violence.
“We are an under-performing institution,” De Lima said on Wednesday after seeing the report of the Ateneo School of Government (ASoG) on the CHR’s shortcomings in Abra province in Northern Luzon.
“We have not done enough to address violence in the context of elections, whether it is in Abra or elsewhere,” De Lima added.
During elections, government institutions in the province of Abra no longer function, according to the ASoG study.
With institutions “captured” by local political parties, a spate of election-related violence occur. The study said Abra accounts for 16% of the nation’s election-related killings.
“Ten out of its 27 towns are regular hotspots in the last three elections,” the report said.
Local offices of the Commission on Elections (Comelec), the Philippine National Police, the Department of the Interior and Local Government, and the CHR can be “recruited to serve the vested political ends of some politicians’ in the province,” the study added.
De Lima admitted that election-related violence is not the agency’s priority.
Currently, the CHR’s program is centered on the “restrictive Supreme Court and Department of Justice definition” that the extra-legal killings they address should be “perpetrated by state actors against victims characterized mostly as opposition against the state.”
“Easily, we can identify how the definition does not encompass election-related violence. Perpetrators do not act in behalf of the state, but as private individuals. And victims are largely political enemies,” De Lima explained.
Classifying the types of killings that will be within its mandate confuses the CHR. The commission doesn’t want to intervene in all forms of killings or they would almost duplicate the role of the police.
“At the moment, we simply don’t have clean cut guidelines to identify election-related violence from within our current mandate to monitor and investigate them as extra-legal cases,” she said.
De Lima said the CHR has been trying to expand their definition of and jurisdiction on extra-legal killings. The agency has done this by investigating the vigilante killings by the so-called “Davao Death Squad” in Davao City.
“All killings, after all, are human rights violations,” de Lima said.
But even if the CHR decides to take on election-related violence, De Lima said they don’t have the capacity to collate data, much less to monitor and address them.
“We have an operational deficiency… that leads to the difficulty of properly categorizing election-related violence,” she added.