“The country lost a dedicated public servant who never cowered in fear in asserting people’s rights and civil liberties despite every curse and insult of a tyrannical president since 2016.”
By ANNE MARXZE D. UMIL
MANILA – Human rights groups both here and abroad mourn the passing of Commission on Human Rights chairperson Jose Luis Gascon who succumbed to COVID-19.
His brother Miguel posted this morning Gascon’s passing on his Facebook account saying, “Sa dami mong laban, sa COVID pa tayo natalo (For the many fights you fought, it is with COVID that you lost)! Love you Kuya!”
Gascon was 57.
Tributes poured for Gascon, known to many as Chito, who was described as someone who was always there for the families and victims of human rights violations and a fearless leader who also stood firm when the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) was threatened to receive a measly P1,000 ($20) for the entire 2018 when they scrutinized drug-related killings.
In a statement, CHR spokesperson Jacqueline Ann de Guia said that “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. 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,” De Guia said.
The CHR under Gascon’s leadership has been active in investigating cases of rights abuses in Duterte’s campaign against illegal drugs. Apart from the $20-budget, Duterte also accused him of being “gay” or a “pedophile.”
Despite these, Gascon continued his work in the Commission.
Amnesty International Secretary General Agnes Callamard said Gascon have done so much through the work of the CHR “to tell the stories of the victims of the Duterte’s relentless war on drugs, to ensure evidence and testimony were collected and preserved, to protect witnesses from retaliation and with your remarkable resilience, to speak up and denounce the violence and the impunity, within and outside the Philippines.”
Callamard added that Gascon has fought fearlessly for the Commission “against the many attacks threatening its very work and ability to function and defend.”
“We have lost Chito. But dearest Chito, your legacy will live on,” Callamard added.
Karapatan said that despite the attacks against Gascon and the Commission, he stood with the organization as well as with other human rights defenders in their calls for justice.
“He opened the Commission’s halls to the victims of human rights violations, political prisoners, and their kin as he closely worked with independent human rights organizations for dialogues and reports,” said Karapatan secretary general Cristina Palabay.
They added that Gascon would join press conferences and gatherings if he could. Even during the pandemic, Gascon made sure to send messages of solidarity in their webinars and online activities to support and assert their urgent calls for accountability, Palabay said.
Fides Lim, spokesperson of Kapatid and wife of detained peace consultant Vicente Ladlad meanwhile said that the families of political prisoners are devastated with the Commissioner’s passing.
Chair Chito Gascon, rest in power. You fought the good fight. You stood your ground and held fast. You took the fitht to the enemy. You were a giant for human rights. The forest is barer because of your fall, but the seeds that you planted will yield fruit.
— Ted Te (@TedTe) October 8, 2021
I will miss that passion and commitment to people’s rights of Chito Gascon, a classmate, co-counsel, and a friend.
Chito may have passed, but my memories with him during our student days will always be with me.
Paalam and rest easy, my friend. pic.twitter.com/qfKdv1SYM4
— Neri Colmenares (@ColmenaresPH) October 9, 2021
“The country lost a dedicated public servant who never cowered in fear in asserting people’s rights and civil liberties despite every curse and insult of a tyrannical president since 2016,” Lim said, describing Gascon as someone who was tireless and someone who was always there with them.
“Diabetes nor COVID-19 never stopped him from serving the victims of human rights violations as well as he could (in order) to carry out his constitutional mandate under the most extreme pressure of a President who detests human rights to its core,” she said.
She said that Gascon met and listened to them. He also sent staffs to check on their imprisoned relatives.
“We take strength from his legacy of service and compassion. Chito Gascon will be a hard act to follow by an appointing power who is the living opposite of what human rights mean,” said Lim.
Gascon was appointed as CHR Chairperson in 2015 under the administration of late President Benigno Aquino III.
He was also the youngest member of the 8th Philippine Congress and of the Constitutional Commission that drafted the 1987 Constitution.
De Guia said that the Commission “will continue the human rights work with equal fervor and sincerity that Chair Chito exemplified in his work.”
She also assured the public that the remaining members of the Commission en banc “will continue to function and fulfill the mandate of CHR, especially at this crucial time for human rights in the Philippines.”