By Czarina Nicole Ong Ki
While the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) recognizes the eagerness of the government to combat the COVID-19 pandemic, Spokesperson Atty. Jacqueline Ann de Guia said there should be limitations set in place to the proposals to declare a national emergency and grant special powers to President Duterte.
De Guia acknowledged that the character of the COVID-19 pandemic indeed satisfies a criterion for granting emergency powers. However, she cited Article VI, Section 23(2) in the 1987 Constitution that states “such exercise of authority shall only be for a limited period.”
She likewise cited the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which is a treaty ratified by the Philippines. It serves as a reminder to the government that there are “exceptions” pertaining to the restriction of freedoms, and other special applications of human rights standards during emergencies are limited “to the extent strictly required by the exigencies of the situation.”
“Emergency powers then cannot be indefinite, or be determined by the persistence of a calamity, lest it become a norm rather than an exception,” she said. “Such arrangement also assumes a well-defined plan of action which may be possible by the granting of emergency powers.”
De Guia said the goal of governance in every democracy is to balance interests and preserve rights. So during emergencies, she said there must be a certain amount of faith granted to the President. However, she stressed that such power “should not be absolute.”
“Granting absolute power may be vulnerable to abuse,” she warned.
De Guia reminded the government that the use of emergency powers must be done within proper guidelines of the law, and must always adhere to the principles of human rights. She added that the 1987 Constitution is a good guideline against excesses since it is a “product of wisdom of a dark past.”
“We join the country in hoping for a solution that will help us heal and recover from the damage of the virus. But, as we move forward, we continue to stress that what is at stake are human rights of the people that should never be compromised, even in critical times,” she said.