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P1,000 budget for 2018?:CHR deserves cut - Tomas

CEBU, Philippines — To some, a yearly budget of P1,000 for the country’s principal human rights watchdog is unfair and pathetic. Well, not for Cebu City Mayor Tomas Osmeña.

Osmeña was among few local officials who favored the congressmen’s drastic cutting of the Commission on Human Rights’ annual budget from the proposed P678 million to P1,000.

“Good,” he said. “Because under the way they (CHR) exercise their mandate, criminals have human rights. That it’s the victims who do not have human rights.”

“I’m getting bwesit already. Human rights don’t only work for criminals. It works for the victims of these criminals,” the mayor added.

On Monday, the Senate finance committee approved the proposed P678 million 2018 budget for CHR, but the House of Representatives on Tuesday voted to give the commission a measly budget following its stringent criticisms of President Duterte’s brutal fight against illegal drugs, a campaign described by the agency’s chairperson as “whimsical and capricious display of vindictiveness.”

A bicameral conference will be set so both chambers of the Congress can reconcile the discrepancy.

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CHR-7 Director Arvin Odron expressed fear that the agency’s operations would be paralyzed by the extreme budget slash.

“It’s a sad reality and I know the sentiments of the CHR personnel who are directly affected and the victims of human rights abuses that look at the CHR as their champion in defending their human rights,” Odron told The FREEMAN yesterday.

The best that Odron can do for now is hope that legislators will lobby to keep the proposed budget intact during the bicameral hearing.

“We hope that the bicameral committee composed of members of the Lower House and Upper House will reconsider the decision of the Lower House and agree for a reasonable and acceptable budgetary allocation necessary for the operations and the payment of personal services (salary) of the personnel next year,” he said.

Odron said if the P1,000 allocation gets approved, among those that will be affected is their Human Rights Protection Service that handles investigations on human rights abuses committed by government employees. The division, he said, badly needs funding to mobilize lawyers and investigators.

He added there is also a need to fund the continuous training of the commission’s personnel involved in human rights protection and promotion.

The budget cut may also endanger seminars the commission freely offer to vulnerable sectors like women, the elderly, persons with disabilities, children, and persons deprived of liberty, among others.

“So with a meager budget, how can the institution perform its constitutional mandate, and where will the CHR get this funding, including funding for personnel services (such as the) monthly salary of employees?” Odron said.

Cebu vote

Of Cebu’s 10 representatives in the Congress, three voted against the move to trim down CHR budget while three were unable to cast their vote.

Those who were not in favor of the proposal were Representatives Raul del Mar (Cebu City North), Aileen Radaza (Lapu-Lapu City), and Wilfredo Caminero (2nd district).

Representative Jonas Cortes (6th District) was unable to join the voting as he missed his flight to Manila due to bad weather while Representative Rodrigo Abellanosa (Cebu City South) had to attend a special meeting with the Department of Public Works and Highways at the time the measure was deliberated.

Representative Peter John Calderon (7th District) said he was not in the floor when the vote was taken.

Nevertheless, Cortes said his sentiment goes out to the CHR. “I believe that depriving the CHR of a realistic operating budget for one entire 2018 fiscal year will not help it cure its deficiencies if there are any,” he said.

When asked what would have been his vote, Abellanosa replied: “It's moot now. The vote has been cast by the House. We will just hope for the best for CHR from the Senate.”

For his part, del Mar said that before the budget was voted on during the plenary session, he had defended the 2018 budget for the CHR following the statement of House Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez during the budget hearing that if the CHR cannot be abolished for allegedly being unfair in the delivery of its services, the Congress might as well deprive it of a budget.

“We used to threaten agencies with reducing their annual budget to one peso or zero. Must have been adjusted to inflation,” said del Mar.

For del Mar, this is “ridiculous” considering that it involves an agency created by the Constitution as an independent body.

Del Mar explained the move would in effect cripple, maim, even kill CHR which he said is not what the Constitution intends.

He said CHR’s functions are misunderstood by many people, including some of the leaders, who think CHR defends only criminals.

“I wonder how we must look to the global community when we don't recognize and appreciate the job that CHR has been doing. We need to be reminded that CHR was created to help curb excesses and abuses in the seat of power,” del Mar said.

The FREEMAN tried to reach Representatives Gerald Anthony Gullas (1st district), Gwendolyn Garcia (3rd district), Benhur Salimbangon (4th district), and Ramon Durano VI (5th district) to ask how they voted but received no reply as of this writing.

Other reactions

Governor Hilario Davide III said the P1,000 allocation was “unfair and pitiful.”

“That amount is tantamount to abolishing the CHR already. What can they do with the P1,000? Pero I’m confident that ang Congress ilaha ni ma-reconsider kay napa may bicameral committee. Moagi pa na sa Senado, naa silay ilahang version. I hope ma-reverse ni. It just really saddens me nga ingon ana ang resulta sa voting,” he said.

The governor reiterated his stand against CHR’s shutdown because of its special role: to investigate excesses by government officials such as extrajudicial killings and other human rights violations.

Cebu City Councilor Raymond Alvin Garcia echoed Davide’s statement, saying that as an independent constitutional body, CHR must enjoy fiscal economy.

“However, when its chairman uses the office to further party’s political agenda and paint the president as a demon, then the office ceases to be independent. Mr. (Chito) Gascon should not use the CHR as a political tool to further LP’s (liberal Party) malicious agenda,” he added.

If this is the only way to call CHR’s attention, then by all means, Garcia agrees with the cut.

City Councilor Sisinio Andales said he was disappointed on house members who voted in favor of the slash. “They are an embarrassment to their districts. They should receive a P1,000 budget for 2018, not the CHR,” he said.

City Councilor Joel Garganera said CHR is worth more than P1,000 while Association of Barangay Councils-Cebu City President Phillip Zafra also branded the cut  as “unjust.”

Police Regional Office-7 Chief Superintendent Jose Mario Espino opted to stay mum on the issue but controversial Ozamiz City police chief, Chief Inspector Jovie Espenido, who was in Cebu City yesterday, did not mince his words when asked for comments.

“Ang CHR maayo pero ang nakadili maayo kay kanang apilon nila ang president nga way labot sa sitwasyon. Pero ako moingon sa CHR nga kanang mga nakasala nga pulis nga namusil og way sala, mao nay inudnod,” Espenido said. — with Mitchelle L. Palaubsanon, Gregg M. Rubio, Christell Fatima M. Tudtud, and Mae Clydyl M. Avila (BANAT NEWS)

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