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Budget deadlock looms over CHR
The Senate finance subcommittee on the CHR, headed by Sen. Panfilo Lacson, earlier approved P678 million for the commission next year. Panfilo Lacson/Released
MANILA, Philippines — Senators yesterday warned of a possible deadlock in the approval of the proposed P3.7-trillion national budget for 2018 if the House of Representatives insists on allocating only P1,000 for the Commission on Human Rights (CHR).
If the deadlock happens and is not resolved by the end of the year, the government could be running on the so-called “reenacted budget” or this year’s General Appropriations Act, they warned.
The Senate finance subcommittee on the CHR, headed by Sen. Panfilo Lacson, earlier approved P678 million for the commission next year.
“The CHR deserves more than P1,000, they deserve P600 million,” Senate President Aquilino Pimentel III told reporters.
“The Senate, I would like to think, will not stand for the abolition of the CHR, through giving it a P1,000 budget. If the House will insist on that, then there will be a deadlock for the 2018 General Appropriations Act,” Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon told reporters.
He warned giving the CHR a P1,000 budget sets a dangerous precedent, saying it is tantamount to “constructive abolition” of a constitutional body.
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“You cannot abolish a constitutional commission especially by not giving it a budget. By not giving it a budget, you, in effect, abolish it. It is constructive abolition, which may set a dangerous precedent, especially among our constitutional bodies, including the Supreme Court,” Drilon said.
Sen. Joseph Victor Ejercito said he expects the Senate to restore the budget of the CHR which, he said, “functions as a guardian against abuse of those in authority.”
Sen. Risa Hontiveros said democracy in the country is under siege based on the actions being taken by the President and his allies in Congress against institutions that dare to criticize the administration.
“That’s really what is going on – and deliberately. The President said that he is not out to abolish institutions but directly and indirectly they and their allies are doing exactly that,” Hontiveros said in a television interview.
Sen. Grace Poe said the CHR should be assisted and not penalized.
“I think they (CHR) lack support. There are a lot of things that need to be investigated. Especially with the war on drugs and other concerns,” Poe said.
Sen. Sonny Angara pointed out it was the CHR that brought to public attention the “hidden jail” in a police station with women and children unaccounted for.
“Let’s fight for everyone’s rights not just when they die or are threatened, but let us also uphold everyone’s right to live a dignified life where needs and opportunities are attended to,” Angara added.
For Sen. Juan Miguel Zubiri, human rights has been a “fractious issue” under the Duterte administration. He, however, said he does not believe President Dutere had something to do with the budget cut.
The House voted 119-32 on Tuesday night to reduce the CHR outlay from P623 million to just P1,000. The minuscule amount would effectively shut down the agency.
Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez earlier vowed to cripple the CHR by giving it a small appropriation even though it was Duterte who proposed P623 million for CHR. The proposal is part of the P3.767-trillion 2018 national budget he submitted to Congress last July 24.
Sagip party-list Rep. Rodante Marcoleta, an administration ally, presented the motion on Tuesday night to cut CHR’s funding to P1,000. He said the agency should be investigating all human rights violations.
Albay Rep. Edcel Lagman, an opposition lawmaker, rebutted Marcoleta, saying he apparently did not understand CHR’s mandate.
Lagman said the CHR is tasked to investigate human rights violations “committed by the state or its agents and not common crimes perpetrated by terrorists or rebels, which are punishable under the penal code and which other agencies can deal with.”
He said many members of the majority voted with the opposition in the “ayes” and “nays” voting, which result the presiding officer, deputy speaker and Ilocos Sur Rep. Eric Singson, mistakenly declared to be in favor of those supporting the Marcoleta motion.
But when Singson ordered voting by rising or standing, administration allies who sided with the opposition “could not hold on to their conviction in the open against the dictates of the super majority leadership,” he said.
CHR: A display of vindictiveness
CHR chairman Chito Gascon said the P1,000 budget for the commission is a “whimsical, arbitrary and capricious display of vindictiveness.”
Gascon also said Duterte administration allies “shamelessly exhibited their tyranny of numbers” when they drastically cut the CHR’s budget.
“We regret that despite continued clarifications on our mandate, they have wrongly perceived our role as combative rather than a collaborative effort to bolster Philippine democracy by ensuring that all public officials are honest in the performance of their duties and adhere to universally accepted principles of human rights,” the CHR said in a statement issued Tuesday night.
But the CHR vowed that it will not turn its back on its constitutional duty to render justice for all and give everyone their due.
“We shall seek the means to move forward and navigate through the hurdles mindful of our oath to serve the people and the Republic – because it is what is right and what is needed of the times,” it added.
Duterte, Alvarez, congressmen draw flak
Alvarez and the congressmen who voted to reduce the CHR’s budget drew flak.
Vice President Leni Robredo expressed dismay on the P1,000 budget of CHR, saying it shows the House of Representatives’ “lack of respect for the Constitution and human rights.”
“With the widespread violence and killings, the attempt to cripple the agency that affirms our rights is really worrisome,” she added.
For United Nations special rapporteur Agnes Callamard, what the House did is a waste of public money and damaging and hurting the Philippine society at a time when it is confronted with allegations of massive human rights violations.
Progressive groups also slammed Duterte over his supposed hand in the House decision to defund the CHR.
Human rights group Karapatan said this House move was part of the Duterte administration’s attempt to abolish the CHR.
For Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan), the House decision is another testament of the Duterte administration’s dictatorship tendency.
“It’s dictatorship in the making; President Duterte wants to totally abolish the CHR but because it needs a long-process constitutional amendment, he and his super majority in the Congress trimmed its budget to cripple its functions,” said Fernando Hicap, chair of Pambansang Lakas ng Kilusang Mamamalakaya ng Pilipinas.
Labor group Juan Manggagawa slammed Alvarez and the other congressmen, calling them “bigots.”
“Providing the CHR with a P1,000 budget based on flimsy reasons and alternative facts can only be described as an act of bigots and dishonorable men, so shameful that a total of 119 robots were successfully assembled by Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez to kill the right of the CHR and its workers to exist,” Juan Manggagawa spokesman Wilson Fortaleza said.
Manila Auxiliary Bishop Broderick Pabillo and Balanga Bishop Ruperto Santos asked the lawmakers to reconsider their decision, citing the vital role of the CHR, especially in killings and human rights violations under the Duterte administration’s war on drugs.
“The CHR has an important task to defend human rights and, in the long run, our democracy. There is no true government by the people if people’s rights are not safeguarded. They really need budget to do their work well as a watchdog on human rights,” Pabillo said.
For Santos, the House’s move sends a wrong signal to the people.
Anakpawis Rep. Ariel Casilao said it is Duterte who is ultimately responsible for crippling CHR.
He said the decision of administration allies to shut down the agency “is tantamount to revealing that those in power, especially Duterte, are indifferent to protection of human rights, thus undermining the democratic principles in the country.”
In a Facebook post, Edwin Lacierda, spokesman for former president Benigno Aquino III, also criticized Alvarez, saying he was “ashamed” of a “fellow Atenean lawyer” for leading the move to grant the CHR a P1,000 budget.
“You (Alvarez) hate the CHR not because it was not doing its job. You hate the CHR because it was precisely doing its job, putting itself out as a stumbling block and doing a nearly impossible task of investigating the unmitigated killings that are no longer just statistics of more than 12,000 dead but now have faces and names to the numbers,” Lacierda wrote.
“When you lectured the public that the CHR was not performing its job and deserved to have the budget slashed, I thought you were just being true to form in your belief that next to the President, you are the most powerful person in the country who can say any asinine statement but still smell fragrant and be answerable to no one.
“Mr. Speaker, when you decided to reduce the budget of the CHR to 1,000 pesos, you did not show your wisdom nor that of the House; you showed only arrogance and pettiness,” Lacierda added. – With Marvin Sy, Jess Diaz, Edu Punay, Helen Flores, Sheila Crisostomo, Pia Lee-Brago, Ding Cervantes, Rainier Allan Ronda