Etta Rosales as CHR head: Aquino’s single worst act of political madness

When President Benigno S. Aquino III appointed Leila de Lima as his secretary of justice, not a few praised him for recognizing what she had done at the Commission on Human Rights, where she had served as chairwoman for two years, and what she can do at the Department of Justice. Many thought it was an inspired choice, an indication, if ever there’s one, that Aquino is serious about the change that he had promised during the campaign.

Then along comes the reported impending appointment of Etta Rosales as chairwoman of the Commission on Human Rights, an information that Rosales herself fed to the press. If true, Aquino would be well on his way to taketh what he hath giveth, to offset the gains created by the de Lima appointment.

If Rosales, former congresswoman of the Akbayan partylist group, goes on to head the CHR, it would be a setback to the cause of human rights in the Philippines. Worse, it would ensure that the culture of impunity in the Philippines – a violent climate that has resulted in the killing, torture and abduction of thousands of activists, peasants, human-rights advocates – would persist.

Naming Rosales to head the CHR would probably be the most abhorrent appointment Aquino can make.

Before I enumerate why I have such strong opposition to a Rosales appointment, let me clarify that I, like many, get it that Aquino had to pay political debts. Rosales’s group, Akbayan, was a close ally of Aquino’s during the campaign and doubtless contributed immensely to his victory. It is said that the Akbayan people, along with their cohorts in the socdem (social democratic) circle in the country, were responsible for the “Villaroyo” tag they used on Manuel Villar, Aquino’s main opponent in the election, effectively sinking Villar’s campaign.

So, yes, I get it that Aquino had to make some payback. But, for the love of God, why Rosales for CHR chairwoman? Why not appoint her to the Department of Justice, for example, where she can use her zeal to run after tax cheats and corrupt officials?

It’s not as if the CHR lacks people who can implement the mandate of the constitutional body. There’s the current OIC, Coco Quisumbing, and any of the existing commissioners.

(Author’s note: The following two paragraphs have been edited to reflect my failure to find any reference to the KMU’s claim that Rosales had echoed the “internal purge” theory by the military. The gist, however, of my original point remains.)

You see, Rosales and her ilk have relentlessly peddled the outrageous line that Bayan Muna, Gabriela, Anakpawis, Kilusang Mayo Uno, etc. — groups that Rosales’s Akbayan has been ideologically opposed to — are communist front organizations. Now, keep in mind that most of the victims of the killings, tortures and disappearances were from these organizations.

This accusation fits in nicely with the military’s line that the extrajudicial killings in the Philippines were not the handiwork of the military, thus contradicting the findings by such esteemed individuals as Philip Alston, the UN’s special rapporteur on extrajudicial killings. By accusing Bayan Muna and its allied groups of being communist fronts, Rosales et al practically supported the military’s contention that these atrocities were committed by the Communists in an “internal purge.”  (They are so into it that, even when supporting Rosales’s possible appointment, they can’t help repeating the supposed connection betwen the communists and Bayan Muna et al.)

Rosales and Akbayan’s allegation, which they further mouthed during the recent election campaign in order to discredit  Bayan Muna’s Satur Ocampo and Gabriela’s Liza Maza, who ran under Villar’s party, flies in the face of overwhelming evidence that the military was behind these atrocities – evidence like the plate number of the vehicle used in the Jonas Burgos abduction later traced to a military camp, eyewitness testimonies such as those by Raymond Manalo, the military’s behavior against the so-called Morong 43, among others.

Never mind that the pieces of evidence point to the military as the culprit. Never find that the “purge” theory is about the only thing the military has been using against the Left. Never mind that, granting they were communists, being one is not illegal in the Philippines, that we are supposed to be a democracy where no one should be killed or persecuted for his or her political beliefs.

Moreover, it was Rosales and her group that created divisions in the group that filed the class suit against the family of the dictator Ferdinand Marcos. Her group, Claimants 1081, entered into a compromised agreement (pun intended) with the Marcoses purely on monetary considerations, not out of duty to ensure that justice, not just monetary reparations, should be done.

The bottomline is this: Etta Rosales has displayed her contempt for groups such as Karapatan, Bayan Muna, etc. where most of the victims of these atrocities come from. Her opinion on these groups jibes smoothly with the military’s. There is no way she can function properly as head of the one body tasked to investigate these atrocities. And we’re not only talking about the possibility of these groups and the victims not cooperating with her as CHR chair but also that she would be consistent in her bias against them.

As it is, the military and the police have nothing but contempt and derision against the CHR, as shown in the Morong 43 case. The military’s lack of cooperation in the investigations of many abuse cases – in fact its attempt to derail these investigations by not showing up at hearings, not giving access to CHR teams out to check military camps – is one of the frustrations de Lima had made known before she left the CHR.

Can you imagine what the military must be thinking right now, with the prospect of having a veritable ally leading the agency that’s mandated to look into its abuses? Aquino might as well appoint former general Jovito “The Butcher” Palparan, the poster boy of all this bloody madness, as CHR chief!

It is in this context that I think Rosales’s appointment, God forbid, would worsen the climate and culture of impunity in the Philippines. The military, which is undoubtedly behind most of these atrocities, will have found an ally in her. It will then feel emboldened to continue with its brutal war of attrition against the Left and those whose only sin was to have the guts to dissent, to decry the injustices and inequalities of this country.

Her appointment, again God forbid, would be the single worst act of political madness that Aquino can commit. Etta Rosales is a blight to the cause of human rights in the Philippines. Appointing her as CHR chairwoman would  not only be a signal to the military to carry on with its bloody campaign against dissenters – it would be the height of injustice and an atrocity in itself.


This entry was written by Carlos Conde and is republished here with his permission.  This entry was originally published at his Asian Correspondent column, Dateline Manila on July 9, 2010.  Mr. Conde is not affiliated with Pro Pinoy; he is neither staff writer, nor regular contributor for this weblog.  The views he represents here are entirely his own and does not represent pro pinoy.

Mr. Conde is a Manila based journalist who writes for the New York Times and for the global edition of the International Herald Tribune.

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