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Senators promise to fight to restore CHR budget
Members of the House of Representatives flash the Duterte fist after approving their version of the General Appropriations Bill. House of Representatives PRIB, release
MANILA, Philippines — The battle is not yet over for the Commission on Human Rights as senators vowed to restore the agency's budget after the lower house approved a 1,000-peso budget for it for 2018.
Senators Bam Aquino and Francis Escudero promised to restore, if not augment, the CHR's budget as the commission is a "necessity."
"With the numerous deaths and reports of police abuses, we need the Commission on Human Rights to do its duty as mandated by the Constitution," Aquino, a member of the Senate minority bloc, said.
"The CHR is a constitutional imperative and a necessity, however inconvenient it may be for some... I will fight to restore its budget!" Escudero, who is with the PDP-Laban-led supermajority, said on Twitter.
Sen. Panfilo Lacson, the CHR's budget sponsor at the Senate, also questioned the House's move.
“P678 [million] CHR budget reduced to [P1,000] but House version of 2018 [national] budget stays at P3.767 [trillion]. It's interesting to find out how the P677.999 [million] was chopped,” he said.
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The House, in 2016, removed P8 billion from the proposed 2017 budget of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao. That money was later reallocated to help pay for tuition in state colleges and universities.
Sen. Francis Pangilinan, Liberal Party president, said they will not allow CHR's budget to suffer the same fate in the Senate.
"Tututulan namin nang maigi ang pag-apruba nito sa Senado kahit hindi maipasa ang 2018 budget at ma re-enact ang 2017 budget," he said. "Kalokohan ito."
The House of Representatives on Tuesday voted to allocate only P1,000 to the commission mandated to protect the rights of the people from abuse by the government, especially by the police and military.
Although there is no official list of how specific representatives voted, 119 lawmakers voted in favor of the scant funding. Only 32 legislators voted against the motion, which was proposed by SAGIP party-list Rodante Marcoleta, a member of the supermajority.
CHR budget can still be saved
The House's move does not guarantee the commission will get just P1,000 next year as the national budget bill will still go through deliberations in the Senate.
Should the two houses have different versions of the proposed budget, these will have to be reconciled through a bicameral conference committee.
On Monday, a Senate panel approved the CHR's proposed budget of P678 million.The proposed CHR budget it is 9.5 percent lower than last year's P749 million.
The administration also controls a supermajority at the Senate.
CHR Chairman Chito Gascon said the commission will continue to fight for a decent budget as the deliberations move to the Senate.
“Despite these circumstances, we will not turn our backs on our Constitutional duty to render justice for all and give everyone their due. The concern for human rights is beyond partisanship or disagreement,” Gascon said in a statement.
He added: “We shall seek 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.”
'Practically abolishing CHR'
House Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez defended the decision, saying the measly funding is appropriate considering that CHR had been useless and interested only in protecting criminals, a common argument used against the commission by Duterte allies in government and on social media.
He even suggested the commission seek funding from criminals instead.
The House of Representatives also approved budgets of P1,000 each for the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples and Energy Regulatory Commission.
Albay Rep. Edcel Lagman said the measure to cut the CHR’s budget was a “minuscule, embarrassing and unconstitutional move.”
He also warned that appropriating only P1,000 to CHR is equivalent to practically abolishing a constitutional body which the House does not have a power to do.
“We cannot abolish a constitutional office by legislation,” Lagman said.
As a constitutional body, CHR enjoys fiscal autonomy and cannot be defunded or be given a budget of only a peso, a way for some lawmakers to undermine its operations.
Duterte repeatedly threatened to abolish CHR in the past, which has been critical of the killings associated with his bloody crackdown on illegal drugs and his sexist jokes.