OBITUARY | Chito Gascon, who defended Commission on Human Rights vs budget cuts, dies at 57


THE chairman of the Commission on Human Rights, lawyer and activist Jose Luis Martin “Chito” Gascon, died early this Saturday morning (October  9), due to Covid-19 complications, the CHR announced.

In a statement by CHR spokesperson Atty. Jacqueline Ann de Guia, the CHR said: “At a time of unprecedented human rights challenges, Chair Chito courageously and steadfastly upheld the constitutional mandate of the Commission. Amidst the unrelenting attacks against the institution and to him personally, he was unwavering and unflinching in fighting for the universal values of freedom, truth, and justice that are essential in the pursuit of human rights.”

Gascon had recently defended the budget of the agency, which allies of the Duterte administration in the House had sought to marginalize and emasculate with budget cuts. Ironically,  Gascon, after deftly explaining the rationale for the agency’s major funding priorities, got the full endorsement of the senator presiding over the Finance subcommittee hearing – Sen. Ronald “Bato” dela Rosa.

The two men had an interesting, very civil exchange during the hearing, with Gascon agreeing with Dela Rosa’s assertion that in his three years as a senator, he had never tried to block the CHR budget.

Gascon also gave his views as a lawyer when Dela Rosa brought up his possible trial before the International Criminal Court, where he is being investigated with Duterte for the bloody war on drugs between 2016 and 2019, killing thousands. Dela Rosa, as then National Police chief, was tasked to lead that campaign before he was elected senator.

See earlier BusinessMirror story:

The CHR statement said of the 57-year-old Gascon: “He was undaunting in the fight for human rights, rule of law, and democracy out of deep reverence to the equal rights and dignity of all.

“His leadership in the Commission has inspired and nurtured a culture of enabling, empowering, and safe environment that moves CHR personnel to always serve with genuine compassion or Serbisyong may Malasakit, utmost integrity, and excellence. He impressed upon the CHR personnel and fellow human rights workers the impact and value of our work especially to those who have it least.”

CHR vowed to “continue the human rights work with equal fervor and sincerity that Chair Chito exemplified in his work.”

The Commission en banc (CeB) “will continue to function with Commissioner Karen Gomez Dumpit as the Officer-in-Charge,” said the announcement by de Guia.

“As a National Human Rights Institution that embodies the principle of pluralism,” the CeB comprises commissioners “from diverse background, advocacy, and human rights expertise to be able to represent and give voice to the various sectors in society.”

The CHR said details of Gascon’s memorial “will be made with due consideration to the restrictions of the pandemic.”

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