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House gives CHR a P1,000 budget

The House of Representatives voted on Tuesday to give the Commission on Human Rights a budget of only P1,000. File

MANILA, Philippines (First published Sept. 12, 6:05 p.m.) — The House of Representatives on Tuesday voted to give the Commission on Human Rights a measly budget of only P1,000 following its stringent criticisms of President Rodrigo Duterte's brutal campaign against illegal drugs, a move that the agency's chairperson described as "whimsical and a capricious display of vindictiveness."

The decision came after 119 representatives voted in favor of the move to slash the budget of the CHR to a thousand pesos from the Department of Budget's proposed P678 million. Thirty two voted against the motion.

Chito Gascon, the chairperson of the CHR, said that he had hoped that he would be able to convince the House leadership to adequately finance the government agency for it to perform its mandate.

Although saddened by the decision, he said that he was heartened by the courage of some representatives who stood their ground to defy the majority in the chamber.

"We were heartened by the courage & commitment manifested by many members of the House who stood their ground to defy the tyranny of numbers shamelessly exhibited tonight. We are grateful to them & draw strength from their solidarity as we press on with pursuing our mandate to uphold & defend all the human rights of all," Gascon said.

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Before the vote, Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez, a staunch ally of Duterte, defended the decision, saying that such amount was appropriate considering that the CHR had been remiss in its duty to protect the human rights of all Filipinos.

He said that the CHR had been useless and interested only in protecting the rights of criminals. The speaker even suggested that the body seek budget from criminals and not the government.

The CHR, as a constitutional body, enjoys fiscal autonomy and cannot be defunded or be given a budget of only a peso, a way for some lawmakers to punish some government agencies.

This move by the House seems a way for it to skirt this prohibition.

Rep. Rodante Marcoleta, who was switched from the minority to the majority in October last year, made the motion to provide the CHR with the P1,000 budget after he presented his arguments for his position.

He said that Congress could not appropriate budget to an agency "which has not been validly created" since he claimed that the order that created it, Executive Order 163, was issued on May 5, 1987 after then President Corazon Aquino lost her revolutionary powers.

He also blasted the CHR for allegedly failing to probe into human rights abuses in the Mamasapano incident, the siege of Marawi and the constant banditry of the Abu Sayyaf.

The CHR should have gone beyond condemnation and have investigated these to find out the truth, according to Marcoleta.

"You're supposed to investigate every human rights violation irrespective of any group, any location, whether they are soliders, policement, NPA, Maute Group or Abu Sayyaf. There shouldn't be a selective application of investigation," Marcoleta said.

Rep. Raul Del Mar of Cebu's 1st District, the sponsor of the CHR's budget, countered: "Condemning is part of their investigating human rights violations whether by state authorities or by non-state authorities."

Marcoleta also accused the CHR of being more concerned about UN Special Rapporteur Agnes Callamard than Duterte as well as failing to defend the president against criticisms from the New York Times.

"The CHR cannot respond to each and every statement made," Del Mar answered.

Del Mar said that giving the CHR such a measly budget was tantamount to abolishing the government agency and was against the Constitution.

"Let the people who will vote on future constitutional amendments decide on the fate of the CHR not us by mutilating and mangling its budget," he said.

Buhay Partylist Rep. Lito Atienza slammed the move of the House and said that the CHR should in fact be given P2 billion as the number of human rights abuses in the country continued to escalate.

He also labeled the arguments of Marcoleta as "defective" and explained that Aquino at that time was leading a revolutionary government which gave her the power to create laws.

Marcoleta also failed to distinguish between common crimes and violations of human rights, according to Albay Rep. Edcel Lagman.

He explained that the crimes of the Abu Sayyaf, the New People's Army and other non-state parties were not rights violations and can thus be sanctioned based on the laws of the country.

The CHR meanwhile has jurisdiction over offenses by the state and its agents against the people of the country, Lagman explained, basically punching holes in Marcoleta's arguments.

The P1,000 budget is not yet final as this would still have to be reconciled with the Senate's budget for the body at the Bicameral Conference Committee.

Gascon said that the CHR would continue to campaign for a decent budget as the deliberations move to the Senate.

"We will also explore all available remedies," he said.

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