(Vatican Radio) At least two Catholic bishops have expressed outrage over Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte's plan to abolish the country’s Commission on Human Rights (CHR). Bishop Arturo Bastes of Sorsogon was the first to come down on the president saying he was "out of his mind." The prelate said Duterte’s threats to close down the independent body only shows he has “no knowledge” about how governments should operate in a democratic society.
At a press conference after his state of the nation address on July 24, Duterte said he wanted to shut down the commission, which has been critical of his sexist jokes and the killings associated with his brutal war on drugs. The president went on the offensive saying that rather than solely targeting government men, CHR should speak out against killings perpetrated by suspected drug addicts and the atrocities committed by terrorists locked in an urban combat with the military in Marawi City.
“My God, Duterte is getting out of his mind!” Bishop Bastes exclaimed, adding, “his desire to abolish CHR is a sign that he has the dangerous tendency to be a dictator. Heavens forbid!”
The CHR is an independent office created under the 1987 Constitution of the Philippines that is tasked with investigating all forms of human rights violations involving civil and political rights in the country.
CHR protected by Constitution
Retired Bishop Teodoro Bacani of Novaliches said the president cannot just abolish the CHR because it was "created and protected" by the Philippine Constitution. The 77-year-old bishop, who is one of the authors of the Constitution, called on Filipinos to pray for Duterte to regain his "good sense." Bishop Bacani said that the commission can only be abolished through a constitutional amendment.
At Monday’s press conference, Duterte said he would not allow members of the military to be investigated for possible human rights violations, saying the human right’s commission should go through him before getting to his men.
'Rein of terror'
In a Jan. 30 pastoral letter, the Philippine bishops have been outspoken against the increase in killings, referring to it as a “reign of terror”.
During his presidential campaign, Duterte promised to rid the country of illegal drugs in three to six months and repeatedly threatened traffickers with death. But the president who marked his first year in office on June 30, missed his deadline and later declared he would fight the menace until his last day in office.
More than 5,200 suspects have died so far, including more than 3,000 in reported gunbattles with police and more than 2,000 others in drug-related attacks by motorcycle-riding masked gunmen and other assaults, police said. Human rights groups have reported a higher toll and called for an independent investigation into Duterte's possible role in the violence.