The Initiatives for International Dialogue (IID) together with its partners and networks among indigenous peoples and Bangsamoro communities, solidarity and peace workers joins the human rights community and all democrats in the country and around the region in expressing its deepest, sincerest and profoundest condolences to the family, friends and colleagues of Chito Gascon, Chairman of the Commission of Human Rights (CHR) in the Philippines who succumbed to Covid today.

Chito has been a partner, ally and champion of IID and many of our cohorts in our peacebuilding, democracy and transitional justice work advocating with us the rights of Internally Displaced Persons (IDP’s), indigenous peoples, the Bangsamoro and the countless, nameless and faceless victims of armed conflict. He was an untiring, happy and inspiring presence in our common engagements in the communities, conferences and meetings– be they with veterans of struggles of yore or with millennials and Generation X and Z denizens of today.   

Chito has been a quiet, but steadfast leader of the CHR, an independent constitutional body created in the aftermath of the Marcos dictatorship to monitor and call out and help prosecute human rights violators specially perpetrated by state agents.

As CHR Chair, Chito has been very welcoming and accommodating in partnering with civil society organizations at a time when civic space have been constantly challenged and battered. He was likewise in the forefront of peace work having been a member in different capacities of the government panels negotiating with the National Democratic Front (NDF) and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).

Chito led the CHR as independently and inclusively as possible even if he was associated with a particular party that has been all but demonized. He didn’t brandish his ideology or political color as he objectively and firmly conducted his affairs at the CHR even amid the myriad slings that came his way. The CHR became some sort of a bastion and sanctuary of human rights advocates and defenders or tired activists who needed to recharge. And those who came where his refuge as well.

His passing comes amid the glorious news of the indefatigable Filipina journalist Maria Ressa’s winning the Nobel Peace Prize this year. This does not in any way dampen the radiance of  Ressa’s prize but starkly reminds us that “there are still miles to go” before we call it a day in our ceaseless work in protecting the dignity of our fellow women and men.

Rest in power and peace Chair Chito! Mabuhay ka!