PH House of Representatives votes to cut human rights commission’s budget to US$20

Lawmakers celebrate passing a US$20 budget for the Commission on Human Rights

The House of Representatives of the Philippines ended debates last night on the 2018 budget of the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) and left it with a PHP1,000 (US$20) for next year. Yes, you read that figure correctly.

A total of 119 lawmakers voted in favor of the PHP1,000 budget — a move that would effectively cripple the commission — while 32 objected.

The CHR, which has been critical of the administration’s war on drugs, had an original budget proposal of PHP623.38 million (US$12.46 million).

During the voting, 1SAGIP Party-list Rep. Rodante Marcoleta moved for the PHP1,000 budget, as he criticized CHR for “not upholding the human rights of everyone” and for supposedly failing to go after criminals.

He also assailed the legal basis for the creation of the CHR, arguing it was only an executive fiat of then-President Corazon Aquino that created the CHR in 1987.

According to an article in The Diplomat, the CHR is the oldest government-created human rights institution in Southeast Asia.

The voting comes two months after President Rodrigo Duterte said that the CHR was “better off abolished” for its criticism of his administration’s priority of waging a war on drugs.

Last month, House Speaker Panteleon Alvarez said he wanted to give the CHR zero budget for not doing its job, believing that the CHR prioritizes “protecting the rights of criminals and drug addicts.”

Buhay Party-list Rep. Lito Atienza argued that CHR’s budget should be at PHP2 billion (US$40 million) due to many accusations of human rights violations under the Duterte government.

CHR Chairman Chito Gascon disagreed with the budget cut, saying Congress’ move was a “whimsical & capricious display of vindictiveness.”

“We had hoped that both the Speaker & the House Majority would have been persuaded by reason & necessity to allocate an adequate budget to CHR in order for us to effectively perform our constitutional mandate as an independent office to protect human rights,” he said.

During an ambush interview, CHR Commissioner Gwen Pimentel Gana confirmed that House Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez told her during a recent meeting that the CHR’s budget would be approved if Gascon stepped down from his post.

“He [Alvarez] just expressed his feelings the same way he said to the public, that he intends to pursue the PHP1,000 (US$20) budget for the CHR and, of course, he did mention that if the chair [Gascon] would step down, then probably the budget would be increased or given to the CHR,” she said.

Gascon refused to resign and instead thanked the 32 lawmakers who objected to the budget cut.

“Many of us were teary-eyed… I became teary-eyed because these were tears of joys… that there was so many who stood up, not the majority, but so many. In fact, many of those at the first stage who didn’t vote ‘aye’ but had to stand up later also approached us,” he said.

Gascon explained that life goes on for the CHR — at least for now — since the budget bill still has to go through the Senate and the bicameral conference committee before it is signed by the president.

“The commission will continue to operate so long as the Constitution operates. Despite this defeat in the House, we look forward to defending our budget in the Senate and we hope that reason…will prevail both at the Senate as well as in the bicameral conference committee,” he said.

The Senate vowed to restore the CHR’s budget to PHP678 million (US$ 13.3 million) on Monday but the final version of the budget still needs to be voted on. There is no final date yet for when the voting will be done.

The opposition Liberal Party, meanwhile, lauded the 32 lawmakers who opposed the measure and said the lower budget will give way to more drug-related teens’ deaths.

“The 32 are awake, while the 119 who voted for the measly CHR budget may be unaware that their vote could help lead to the end of our democracy. Because their “yea” votes means they agree to having more Kians, Carls, and Kulots in the future, defenseless in life and in death, their killers unpunished. Their deaths will be on them too,” the party said in a statement.

United Nations Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial, Summary and Arbitrary Executions Agnes Callamard called the House of Representatives’ move “reprehensible.”

with reports from ABS-CBN News

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