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C. Commission on Human Rights

There is hereby created an independent office called the Commission on Human Rights. (Section 17[1], Article XIII, Ibid.)

From the 1987 Constitution and the Administrative Code, it is abundantly clear that the CHR is not among the class of Constitutional Commissions. (CHREA v. CHR, G.R. No. 155336, 25 November 2004)

1. Powers

a. POWERS AND FUNCTIONS

The Commission on Human Rights shall have the following powers and functions:

1) Investigate, on its own or on complaint by any party, all forms of human rights violations involving civil and political rights;

2) Adopt its operational guidelines and rules of procedure, and cite for contempt for violations thereof in accordance with the Rules of Court;

3) Provide appropriate legal measures for the protection of human rights of all persons within the Philippines, as well as Filipinos residing abroad, and provide for preventive measures and legal aid services to the underprivileged whose human rights have been violated or need protection;

4) Exercise visitorial powers over jails, prisons, or detention facilities;

5) Establish a continuing program of research, education, and information to enhance respect for the primacy of human rights;

6) Recommend to the Congress effective measures to promote human rights and to provide for compensation to victims of violations of human rights, or their families;

7) Monitor the Philippine Government’s compliance with international treaty obligations on human rights;

8) Grant immunity from prosecution to any person whose testimony or whose possession of documents or other evidence is necessary or convenient to determine the truth in any investigation conducted by it or under its authority;

9) Request the assistance of any department, bureau, office, or agency in the performance of its functions;

10) Appoint its officers and employees in accordance with law; and

11) Perform such other duties and functions as may be provided by law. (Section 18, Article XIII, Ibid.)

1) No adjudicatory power

The Commission on Human Rights do not have the power like a court of justice, or even a quasi-judicial agency.  It has no jurisdiction or adjudicatory powers over,n or the power to try and decide, or hear and determine, certain specific type of cases, like alleged human rights violations involving civil or political rights. It was not meant by the fundamental law to be another court or quasi-judicial agency in this country, or duplicate much less take over the functions of the latter.

2) Power to investigate and recommend

The most that may be conceded to the Commission in the way of adjudicative power is that it may investigate, i.e., receive evidence and make findings of fact as regards claimed human rights violations involving civil and political rights. But fact finding is not adjudication, and cannot be likened to the judicial function of a court of justice, or even a quasi-judicial agency or official. (Cariño v. CHR, En Banc, G.R. No. 96681, 02 December 1991)

The function of receiving evidence and ascertaining therefrom the facts of a controversy is not a judicial function, properly speaking. To be considered such, the faculty of receiving evidence and making factual conclusions in a controversy must be accompanied by the authority of applying the law to those factual conclusions to the end that the controversy may be decided or determined authoritatively, finally and definitively, subject to such appeals or modes of review as may be provided by law. This function, to repeat, the Commission does not have. (Ibid.)

3) Power of contempt

On its contempt powers, the CHR is constitutionally authorized to “adopt its operational guidelines and rules of procedure, and cite for contempt for violations thereof in accordance with the Rules of Court.” Accordingly, the CHR acted within its authority in providing in its revised rules, its power “to cite or hold any person in direct or indirect contempt, and to impose the appropriate penalties in accordance with the procedure and sanctions provided for in the Rules of Court.” That power to cite for contempt, however, should be understood to apply only to violations of its adopted operational guidelines and rules of procedure essential to carry out its investigatorial powers. To exemplify, the power to cite for contempt could be exercised against persons who refuse to cooperate with the said body, or who unduly withhold relevant information, or who decline to honor summons, and the like, in pursuing its investigative work. (Simon v. CHR, En Banc, G.R. No. 100150, 05 January 1994)

4) No power to issue an injunction or restraining order

The “order to desist” (a semantic interplay for a restraining order) in the instance before us, however, is not investigatorial in character but prescinds from an adjudicative power that the CHR does not possess. (Ibid.)

The constitutional provision directing the CHR to “provide for preventive measures and legal aid services to the underprivileged whose human rights have been violated or need protection” may not be construed to confer jurisdiction on the Commission to issue a restraining order or writ of injunction for, it that were the intention, the Constitution would have expressly said so. “Jurisdiction is conferred only by the Constitution or by law”. It is never derived by implication. (Export Processing Zone Authority v. CHR, En Banc, G.R. No. 101476, 14 April 1992)

a) CHR may seek injunctyion from regular courts

Evidently, the “preventive measures and legal aid services” mentioned in the Constitution refer to extrajudicial and judicial remedies (including a writ of preliminary injunction) which the CHR may seek from proper courts on behalf of the victims of human rights violations. Not being a court of justice, the CHR itself has no jurisdiction to issue the writ, for a writ of preliminary injunction may only be issued “by the judge of any court in which the action is pending [within his district], or by a Justice of the Court of Appeals, or of the Supreme Court.” (Ibid.)

5) Congress to provide for other cases of human rights violations

The Congress may provide for other cases of violations of human rights that should fall within the authority of the Commission, taking into account its recommendations. (Section 19, Article XIII, Ibid.)

2. Composition and qualification of members

a. COMPOSITION

The Commission shall be composed of a Chairman and four (4) Members. (Section 17[2], Article XIII, Ibid.)

b. QUALIFICATIONS

They must be:

1) Natural-born citizens of the Philippines; and,

2) A majority of whom shall be members of the Bar. (Ibid.)

c. TERM OF OFFICE AND OTHER QUALIFICATIONS AND DISABILITIES

The term of office and other qualifications and disabilities of the Members of the Commission shall be provided by law. (Ibid.)

d. ANNUAL APPROPRIATIONS

The approved annual appropriations of the Commission shall be automatically and regularly released. (Section 17[4], Article XIII, Ibid.)

1) No fiscal autonomy

There is no legal basis to support the contention that the CHR enjoys fiscal autonomy. (CHREA v. CHR, supra.)

In essence, fiscal autonomy entails freedom from outside control and limitations, other than those provided by law. It is the freedom to allocate and utilize funds granted by law, in accordance with law, and pursuant to the wisdom and dispatch its needs may require from time to time. (Ibid.)

It is only the Judiciary, the Civil Service Commission, the Commission on Audit, the Commission on Elections, and the Office of the Ombudsman, which enjoy fiscal autonomy. (Ibid.)

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