By JONATHAN DE SANTOS
FORMER employees of the Commission on Human Rights have accused two commissioners of abusing their positions, prompting human rights advocates to write President Benigno Aquino III to urge tighter screening of appointees.
The Philippine Alliance of Human Rights Advocates (PAHRA) released the letter on Thursday at a press conference attended by the two complainants.
Regina Eugenio, a former staffmember of Commissioner Cecilia Rachel “Coco” Quisumbing, said she and other CHR employees were repeatedly on the receiving end of verbal abuse from the commissioner over minor mistakes.
Eugenio filed a complaint with the Office of the Ombudsman on Wednesday accusing Quisumbing of bribery and violating the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act and the Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Public Officials and Employees.
Another former employee of the CHR, Nemesio Mendoza, filed a complaint against Commissioner Norberto Dela Cruz, whom he said cursed and assaulted him last Aug. 6.
PAHRA’s letter to the President said the “verified stories of recent human rights violations committed by two Commissioners against their staff” show a culture of impunity within the commission itself.
“We are aware that these violations are added on to past incidents of uncorrected and continuing acts of unprofessionalism, below-par performance and favoritism that eroded the integrity and credibility of some commissioners as well as the institution of the CHR itself,” the coalition said in its letter.
VERA Files tried to get in touch with Quisumbing but was told she was not available. A member of her staff said she did not know when Quisumbing would come to the CHR office. She has yet to respond to an e-mail sent to her as well as a note left at her office asking for comment.
Dela Cruz’s office refused to comment on the issue.
In a 25-page affidavit, Eugenio said Quisumbing scolded her once for picking up a pen on the floor. She said the commissioner shouted at her: “Bakit mo pinulot?! Hindi mo ba alam bakit nahulog yan?! May dahilan, Ms. Jing! May dahilan (Why did you pick it up? There’s a reason that it fell to the floor).”
“It was only my second day working with her,” Eugenio, who was in tears during the press conference, said.
The affidavit recounted other incidents, including Quisumbing scolding her for asking whether she could have the commissioner sign some documents. Quisumbing allegedly told her to instead ask whether she “would like” to sign the documents. That way, Eugenio said, it did not seem that she was giving Quisumbing orders.
She also said Quisumbing kept the ATM cards of some members of her staff and only gave them “kung anong maibigan na amount ni Comm. Coco (whatever amount Commissioner Coco felt like giving).”
Eugenio said Quisumbing promoted her to Private Secretary from Administrative Aide 6 but kept the extra P6,000 that the promotion entitled her to.
She said Quisumbing told her the money would be put in a CRVQ fund (her initials) to pay for the office’s Christmas party and outing.
But, she said, the money was actually used to pay for Quisumbing’s credit card and utilities bills and to buy food and snacks for the commissioner.
“Sa P6,000 na inaabot ko sa kanya, wala pong napupunta sa amin (None of the P6,000 I gave her went to us),” she said.
Aside from verbal abuse and taking her money, Eugenio said in her complaint that Quisumbing rarely reported for work, and would also put on a neck brace and use a wheelchair when at the airport so she could use lanes reserved for persons with disabilities.
Mendoza said he used to be Dela Cruz’s official driver although he was treated more like a family driver. He said he stayed at Dela Cruz’s house and was expected to be on call even on weekends and holidays.
“When he let me go home on Fridays, he would already tell me to report to work the next day,” Mendoza said in Filipino.
PAHRA said it promised to give the CHR 15 days to “give them time to act progressively” over the complaints, but that “the situation is turning for the worst.”
De la Cruz has himself filed an assault complaint against his former driver.
Sister Cresencia Lucero of Task Force Detainees of the Philippines said the reported violations are unfortunate in an institution that is supposed to protect and promote human rights.
“They’re violating the rights of their colleagues. Even if they are just employees, they are mission partners,” she said.
PAHRA chairman Max de Mesa said there is still time to improve how appointees to the CHR are selected before President Aquino has to find new commissioners in 2015.
He said the President should designate an independent committee similar to the Judicial and Bar Council that will include input from civil society organizations.
He added the President should push for the passage of a new Commission on Human Rights of the Philippines charter that will include mechanisms to hold commissioners and directors accountable. “Right now, all we can do is go straight to the President,” he said.
In the meantime, De Mesa said, Aquino should form an independent committee to look into the human rights violations and other irregularities allegedly committed by the two commissioners and to have them take a leave of absence.
He said having the commissioners go on leave will bring “an environment of openness free of possible harassment and intimidation during the needed time for inquiry.”
De Mesa said that if left unchecked, the culture of impunity at the CHR would “spread like cancer cells” and undermine the commission as an institution.
“If they cannot even protect human rights within the commission—if they can’t protect the staff—it will be even harder to protect the rights of others,” he said.