Lawyer, Civil Organizer, Human Rights Activist
May 26, 1964 – October 9, 2021
Jose Luis Martin C. Gascon, also known as Chito, was a lawyer, civil organizer, and human rights activist whose work focused on democracy and governance.
Born in Manila, Gascon graduated with a BA Philosophy degree from the University of the Philippines (UP) Diliman in 1988. He earned his Bachelor of Laws degree in UP in 1996 before receiving a master’s degree in International Law at the University of Cambridge in England in 1997.
As a student leader, he helped mobilize protests in schools demanding justice for all and radical political change in the wake of the assassination of Senator Ninoy Aquino on August 21, 1983.
Chito was elected chair of the UP Student Council in 1985 and led the youth movement that actively participated in the EDSA People Power Revolution in February 1986.
In 1987, Gascon was appointed the youngest member of the Constitutional Commission that helped draft the Philippine Constitution. He also became the country’s youngest congressman.
Gascon served as undersecretary of the Department of Education from 2002 to 2005, as a board member of the Bases Conversion and Development Authority from 2010 to 2011, and as an undersecretary at the Office of the President from 2011 to 2014.
He was appointed to the Human Rights Victims’ Claims Board in 2014, the body responsible for the reparation programs for the victims of Martial Law in the 1970 and 1980s.
Gascon served as the chairman of the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) from 2015 to 2021. He was appointed by the late President Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III.
Apart from human rights, Gascon also assisted in peace negotiations involving the conflict with Muslim rebels in Mindanao as a member of the Technical Working Group on Power Sharing and alternate panel member in peace talks with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, and with the AdHoc High-Level Working Group for the Tripartite Review in the 1996 Final Peace Agreement with the Moro National Liberation Front together with the Organization of Islamic Cooperation’s Peace Committee for Southern Philippines.
Gascon was also involved in various civil society political alliances working for human rights and democracy, such as the Kongreso ng Mamamayang Pilipino (KOMPIL), Bansang Nagkaisa sa Diwa at Layunin (BANDILA), the Black and White Movement, Social Liberals and Democrats for the Advancement of Reforms (SoLiDAR), and Re:Publika@DemokraXXIa from 2005 to 2008. He was director-general of the Liberal Party from 2008 to 2011.
Gascon received various recognitions for his reform efforts, including the Benigno S. Aquino Fellowship for Public Service in 2001, Stanford University’s Democracy and Development Fellowship in 2006, the Asian Public Intellectual Fellowship in 2007, and the Asian Leadership Fellowship in 2008.
Gascon also taught law, politics, and human rights at the Ateneo de Manila University and De La Salle University.
He died at the age of 57 due to complications from COVID-19, and is survived by his wife Melissa Mercado and daughter Ciara.
CHR Spokesperson Atty. Jacqueline Ann de Guia remembered Gascon as “an intellectual giant who showed great eloquence in his speech.”
Former Supreme Court Spokesperson Theodore Te wrote on Twitter: “You fought the good fight. You stood your ground and held fast. You took the fight to the enemy. You were a giant for human rights. The forest is barer because of your fall, but the seeds that you planted will yield fruit.”
Vice President Leni Robredo called Gascon a “constant light in these dark times.”
“It is now up to all of us to tend to this light. May we honor his legacy by following his example of compassion, courage, and integrity,” she added.
Senator Leila de Lima praised Gascon as an inspiration, writing, “Chito, it has been an honor, a privilege, and my deepest blessing from God to have met you, worked with you, and been on the receiving end of your compassion for human rights victims and commitment to human rights advocacy.”