Human Rights Commission's factual, legal findings

The findings of fact and the conclusions of law of the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) are merely recommendatory and, therefore, not binding to this Court. The reason is that the CHR’s constitutional mandate extends only to the investigation of all forms of human rights violations involving civil and political rights.[1] As held in Cariño v. Commission on Human Rights[2] and a number of subsequent cases,[3] the CHR is only a fact-finding body, not a court of justice or a quasi-judicial agency. It is not empowered to adjudicate claims on the merits or settle actual case or controversies. The power to investigate is not the same as adjudication:

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. 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.

It cannot try and decide cases (or hear and determine causes) as courts of justice, or even quasi-judicial bodies do. To investigate is not to adjudicate or adjudge. Whether in the popular or the technical sense, these terms have well understood and quite distinct meanings.

"Investigate," commonly understood, means to examine, explore, inquire or delve or probe into, research on, study. The dictionary definition of “investigate” is "to observe or study closely: inquire into systematically: "to search or inquire into: xxx to subject to an official probe xxx: to conduct an official inquiry;" The purpose of investigation, of course, is to discover, to find out, to learn, obtain information. Nowhere included or intimated is the notion of settling, deciding or resolving a controversy involved in the facts inquired into by application of the law to the facts established by the inquiry.

The legal meaning of "investigate" is essentially the same: "(t)o follow up step by step by patient inquiry or observation. To trace or track; to search into; to examine and inquire into with care and accuracy; to find out by careful inquisition; examination; the taking of evidence; a legal inquiry;" "to inquire; to make an investigation," "investigation" being in turn described as "(a)n administrative function, the exercise of which ordinarily does not require a hearing. 2 Am J2d Adm L Sec. 257; xxx an inquiry, judicial or otherwise, for the discovery and collection of facts concerning a certain matter or matters."

"Adjudicate," commonly or popularly understood, means to adjudge, arbitrate, judge, decide, determine, resolve, rule on, settle. The dictionary defines the term as "to settle finally (the rights and duties of the parties to a court case) on the merits of issues raised: xx to pass judgment on: settle judicially: xxx act as judge." And "adjudge" means "to decide or rule upon as a judge or with judicial or quasi-judicial powers: xx to award or grant judicially in a case of controversy."

In the legal sense, "adjudicate" means: "To settle in the exercise of judicial authority. To determine finally. Synonymous with adjudge in its strictest sense;" and "adjudge" means: "To pass on judicially, to decide, settle or decree, or to sentence or condemn. xxx Implies a judicial determination of a fact, and the entry of a judgment."[4]

[1] CONSTITUTION, Art. XIII, Sec. 18 (1).

[2] G.R. No. 96681, December 2, 1991, 204 SCRA 483.

[3] Southern Cross Cement Corp. v. The Phil. Cement Manufacturers Corp., 478 Phil. 85 (2004); and Export Processing Zone Authority v. Commission on Human Rights, G.R. No. 101476, April 14, 1972, 208 SCRA 125.

[4] Cariño v. Commission on Human Rights, G.R. No. 96681, December 2, 1991, at 495-496.