The Center on Democracy, Development and the Rule of Law is deeply saddened by the loss of beloved Draper Hills alumnus José Luis Martín C. (“Chito”) Gascón, who passed away after a short battle with COVID-19 on October 9, 2021, at the age of 57.
A Filipino lawyer, human rights activist, and civil organizer, Gascón served as the Chair of the Philippines’ Commission on Human Rights from 2015 to 2021, having been appointed by President Benigno S. Aquino III. Prior to this, he also served as a member of the Human Rights Victims’ Claims Board and as a member of the Philippine Congress, where he helped to pass monumental legislation to promote the prevention of human rights abuses. He contributed to the founding of the International Center for Innovation, Transformation, and Excellence in Governance; the Institute for Leadership, Empowerment, and Democracy; and the Asian Policy Network. Gascón’s career also included teaching law and political science at Ateneo de Manila University and De la Salle University.
Reacting to the news of Chito's death on Twitter, FSI Director Michael McFaul called him “a true hero for human rights.” Larry Diamond also paid tribute, noting that “he was eloquent, fearless, humble, and deeply devoted to democracy” and one of the Philippines’ “great civil society leaders.”
In 2005, Chito was a member of the first class of CDDRL's Draper Hills Summer Fellows Program, which trains global leaders working on the front lines of democratic change. Kathryn Stoner, Mosbacher Director of CDDRL, noted that he was "a pioneer with us and with all that he did."
In addition to his time as a Draper Hills Summer Fellow, Chito Gascón was a Reagan-Fascell Fellow at the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) in 2007. Former NED president and frequent Draper Hills contributor Carl Gershman shared that “Chito was a brilliant and dedicated democracy activist, a gentle personality with a tough inner core and immense courage. He will be sorely missed by countless friends, myself included, and by people around the world who are fighting for democracy and human dignity.”