Our decisions reflect our character. Through his newest appointment, President Bongbong Marcos has shown that the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) is the first pillar of our democracy to fall victim to the Marcoses. I am gravely concerned that the newly appointed chairman is someone with no demonstrated track record or training in human rights issues. This is a setback not only for the agency itself, but the victims of human rights violations in the country.

How do we ensure that the CHR’s funding will be properly defended in Congress? Or that the commission will not simply fold its hands and give way any time potential transgressions are committed by the police, or the armed forces? A responsibility of this magnitude does not only require knowledge and skill, but the strength of character to speak truth to power on behalf of the oppressed.

The jurisdiction of international laws that protect the oppressed at the time we were a state party to such laws must therefore be complied with especially if the oppressed are human rights victims under the brutal Philippine domestic policy against drugs. There are plenty of human rights lawyers in the country more suited to the task, many of them hailing from within the commission itself. Instead, Marcos has appointed an individual who will struggle with the basics of both senior leadership and human rights practice.

For his part, I challenge Commissioner Richard Palpal-latoc to truly earn his mandate, and build upon the foundations laid down by those who came before. The commission you now lead was created in response to martial law, one of the darkest periods in our nation’s history.

Our people have suffered under a culture of impunity for far too long. Lives have been lost, families grieve, and the institutions meant to protect the ordinary citizen have now become instruments that are turned against Filipinos and our democracy. I know that the CHR is filled with committed men and women who selflessly grind to the task of moving this country out of the mire of violence it has found itself in these past several years. I call on Commissioner Palpal-latoc to work with them, and with the larger human rights community in the country. This is a chance to prove that your loyalty does not lie with any single person or family, but to the welfare of the excluded, the victimized, and the oppressed. Because that is what it means to be a genuine instrument of law and justice.