'A slap in the face': New CHR chairperson, commissioner appointed by Marcos

A relative of a victim of an extra-judicial killing attends a memorial mass ahead of All Soul's Day to remember loved ones slain in the government's war on drugs, at the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) in Manila on October 29, 2021. New CHR Chairperson Atty. Richard Palpal-latoc said that he will maintain the independence of the rights commission. (Photo by JAM STA ROSA/AFP via Getty Images)
A relative of a victim of an extra-judicial killing attends a memorial mass ahead of All Soul's Day to remember loved ones slain in the government's war on drugs, at the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) in Manila on October 29, 2021. New CHR Chairperson Atty. Richard Palpal-latoc said that he will maintain the independence of the rights commission. (Photo by JAM STA ROSA/AFP via Getty Images)

President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. has appointed a new chairperson and a commissioner in the Commission on Human Rights (CHR), the agency announced on Tuesday (September 27), drawing criticism from rights groups who questioned the new chair's credentials.

Marcos appointed Atty. Richard Palpal-latoc, former Deputy Executive Secretary (ES) for Legal Affairs as the new chairperson of the CHR. Former investigator and prosecutor from the Office of the Ombudsman Atty. Beda Epres, will also be a new commissioner under the 6th Commission en banc.

In a press briefing, Palpal-latoc said that the human rights situation in the country is "fair", and also promised that CHR will maintain its independence under his leadership, despite his close proximity to Malacañang as deputy ES.

Both officials will serve for a seven-year term until 2029.

Espres and Palpal-latoc are Marcos's first two appointments in the rights commission, where he is expected to fill four more vacancies for commissioners.

Some human rights organizations have expressed concerns over Marcos’s CHR appointments, while others are calling for the newly-appointed officials to help keep the rights commission independent and work with them in advancing human rights in the country.

‘A slap in the face of victims of human rights abuses’

Human Rights Watch (HRW), in a statement released on Wednesday, said that the appointment of Palpal-latoc is a slap in the face of victims of human rights abuses as he has "no discernible experience in human rights work."

"Quite clearly, Marcos has failed this important early test about his commitment on human rights despite his flowery words at the [United Nations] General Assembly about ushering in a ‘new’ Philippines," said HRW’s Deputy Asia Director Phil Robertson.

"The appointment process was totally opaque, lacked any sort of consultation and raises fundamental questions about whether Marcos is embarking on a process to gut the CHR as an independent and impartial body empowered to investigate rights abuses without fear or favor of those in power."

Atty. Palpal-latoc ‘have big shoes to fill’

Separately, Kapatid, the network of support group for friends and families of political prisoners, said it is looking forward to meeting with Palpal-latoc "to follow up the investigation of manifold trumped-up cases and the de facto state policy of red-tagging that have spiralled the current number of political prisoners to 800 alongside other grave human rights violations."

It added, "We seek to work closely with him and the CHR to ensure the protection of the rights and well-being of political prisoners and to fast-track their release from unjust imprisonment."

They also hope to work with the rights commission to stop the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC) from holding seminars inside jails "to vilify prominent activist leaders and endanger the security and life of political prisoners inside jail facilities."

Marvin Joseph Ang is a news and creative writer who follows developments on politics, democracy, and popular culture. He advocates for a free press and national democracy. Follow him on Twitter at @marvs30ang for latest news and updates. The views expressed are his own.