Philippines House votes to slash budget for Commission on Human Rights

MANILA (Philippine Daily Inquirer/ANN News Desk) - The House of Representatives on Tuesday voted on US$20 annual budget for human rights comission.   

The House of Representatives on Tuesday voted to give a P1,000 (US$20) budget to the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) for 2018, a critical government agency that Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez had threatened leaving with a measly 2018 budget.

During the House budget plenary debates, at least 119 lawmakers voted to approve the P1,000 budget for the CHR.

Only 32 lawmakers voted against it.

The decision of the House to gut the CHR budget from the proposed P649.484 million  (US$12.76 million) (inclusive of retirement and life insurance programme) down to P1,000 apparently was the result of Alvarez making good his word to give the commission, long critical of the administration’s war on drugs, a measly budget, which would render it ineffective in its operations next year.

During the plenary debate, 1-Sagip Representative Rodante Marcoleta moved for the P1,000 budget due to the what he said was the failure of the CHR to investigate rights violations by terrorists.

He also added that the CHR was not a valid agency having been created by an executive order issued by President Cory Aquino in 1986 during the revolutionary government when there was no Congress.

But Albay Representative Edcel Lagman said Marcoleta was mistaken that CHR was not validly created, noting that Aquino was exercising both executive and legislative powers because the 8th Congress was not yet convened at the time.

Lagman added that it would be unconstitutional to give a practically zero budget to a constitutional body, because the 1987 Constitution gave the CHR fiscal autonomy.

He said the CHR has no jurisdiction over common crimes, such as those committed by terrorists. It has jurisdiction only over rights violations perpetrated by the state and its agents.

“Emasculating and killing the CHR with an annual budget of only P1,000 is unconstitutional, because it virtually abolishes a constitutional body or office by legislation,” Lagman said. “We cannot abolish a constitutional office by legislation.”

According to him, the country needs the CHR because of “so many human rights violations” currently being committed.

Buhay Rep. Lito Atienza said giving a zero budget to make the CHR inutile would rid the country of a government agency to protect people against rights abuses.

“Pag ito’y inabolish natin ngayon, wala na puntahan ang bansa dahil sa ang problema ngayon ay violation of human rights,” he said. “It should be given P2 billion so that it could function more properly.”

Cebu City Representative Raul Del Mar, who sponsored the CHR budget proposal, denied that the commission was being partial in pursuing the rights violations cases involving the police.

“Does it occur to you that many victims of human rights [violation] could also be innocent people, even our neighbours, friends, and family?” Del Mar said. “Even assuming the CHR was deficient in its work, the remedy is not to terminate or immobilise the constitutionally-mandated agency.”

He said CHR, being a constitutional commission, could only be given a deficient budget if the Constitution would be amended.

“Let the people who would vote on future amendment to the Constitution decide the fate of the CHR, not us by mutilating and mangling its budget,” Del Mar said.

At first, lawmakers were made to vote by viva voce. But the nays resounded over the ayes, supposedly because of some members from the gallery participating in the voting.

When the presiding Deputy Speaker Eric Singson said the ayes won, Atienza cautioned his colleague “not to commit the mistake of railroading this measure.”

A headcount was then made, making the lawmakers stand up to show if they were for or against the P1,000 CHR budget.

But because the voting was not nominal, where lawmakers would be identified with their votes, only a headcount was made.

Based on an initial count by the House staff, among the lawmakers who voted against the P1,000 budget are:
Gabriela Rep. Emmi de Jesus
Quezon City Rep. Jorge Banal
Quezon City Rep. Jose Christopher Belmonte
Buhay Rep. Lito Atienza
Bayan Muna Rep. Carlos Zarate
Kabataan Rep. Sarah Elago
Magdalo Rep. Gary Alejano
Anakpawis Rep. Ariel Casilao
Gabriela Rep. Arlene Brosas
Act Teachers Rep. France Castro
Act Teachers Rep. Antonio Tinio
Cebu City Rep. Raul del Mar
Albay Rep. Edcel Lagman
Northern Samar Rep. Raul Daza
Negros Oriental Rep. Jocelyn Limkaichong
Maguindanao Rep. Bai Sandra Sema
Dinagat Islands Rep. Kaka Bag-ao
Agusan Del Norte Rep. Lawrence Fortun
Akbayan Rep. Tom Villarin

But there is no sure way of knowing who were the 119 lawmakers who wanted to give a CHR a deficient budget.

“There is no such record as voting was by ayes and nays, which was ultimately done with members standing to vote when the nays challenged the ruling of the chair that the ayes had it,” Majority Leader Rodolfo Fariñas said.

Alvarez, in a televised interview with CNN Philippines, said the CHR deserved the very low budget for being a “useless” agency and for defending the rights of criminal syndicates.

“Ngayon, kung gusto mong protektahan yung rights ng criminal, eh kumuha ka ng budget sa mga criminal. Ganun lang kasimple yun. Bakit ka kukuha ng budget sa gobyerno, eh hindi mo ginagawa yung (trabaho mo),” Alvarez said in the interview.

(Now, if you want to protect the rights of the criminals, get your budget from the criminals. It’s that simple. Why should you get budget from the government and yet you are not doing your job.)

In reaction, CHR Chairman Jose Luis Martin Gascon admitted being teary-eyed – not so much because of the amount but because 32 lawmakers showed their support for the the commission.

“I became teary-eyed because these were tears of joy, ” he said. “Not that we lost our budget. But because there were so many who stood up. Not the majority, but so many. In fact of those at the first stage who did not vote aye but had to stand up also approached me and said: That’s the politics of the majority.”

He said he would not resign from his post if that was the aim of slashing the CHR budget. That would only put the commission at the “mercy of politics.”

“We are supposed to be insulated from politics so we can perform our mandate in accordance to what the Constitution expects us to do,” Gascon said.

He added that he was overwhelmed by the support the commission had received from the public.

“That solidarity, that empathy is what will carry us on,” he said. “This is just a mere hump on the road. We will not be cowed.”

Gascon added that he would appeal the P1,000 budget before the Senate.

After session adjourned, which saw the second reading approval of the national budget, the lawmakers lined up for a photo opportunity, flashing the clenched fist sign of President Rodrigo Duterte.

Photos

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