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House leaders: CHR commissioners ignorant of Constitution

House Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez said that the CHR should present a program for the protection of the human rights of all Filipinos for its budget to be restored. Philstar.com/File

MANILA, Philippines — The leadership of the House of Representatives on Friday accused the Commission on Human Rights of being ignorant of its constitutional duty as they continued to defend granting the independent agency a budget of P1,000.

The House has come under intense criticism following its decision early this week to provide the CHR with only P1,000 for its 2018 budget, a far cry from the Department of Budget and Management's proposal of P678 million. Members of the lower house said the budget was for allegedly being selective in protecting the human rights of Filipinos.

READ: Some absent solons say they would’ve voted vs P1K CHR budget, others mum

According to Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez, the CHR can get its budget if it will be able to present a program that will show that it is really meeting its responsibility under the 1987 Constitution.

The CHR has defended itself and said that its primary duty is to protect the human rights of people against abuses by the state and its agents.

It added that it could also step in should the rights of vulnerable sectors such as women and children are violated.

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Alvarez claimed that the CHR is preaching a wrong interpretation of its duty with this explanation, a comment seconded by the majority leader, Ilocos Norte Rep. Rodolfo Fariñas.

The commission was created in the 1987 Constitution to mainly protect against rights abuses by government. The constitution was drafted and ratified in the wake of decades under ousted dictator Ferdinand Marcos, whose stay in power was marked by human rights violations as well as corruption.

Marcos loyalists and defenders insist that there is nothing to tie the dictator and his family to the abuses. Nevertheless, a government board has started paying reparations to victims of the martial law years and is still processing applications from other claimants. The reparations are funded by ill-gotten wealth awarded to the Philippines by a Swiss court.

READ: What Duterte gets wrong about the CHR

'CHR commissioners did not read Constitution'

Both Alvarez and Fariñas are allies in the House of Representatives of President Rodrigo Duterte, who has expressed his displeasure over the critical statements of the CHR on his brutal campaign to eradicate illegal drugs.

He claimed that the P1,000 budget for the CHR was coming following its stand on human rights abuses in the wake of his war on drugs.

The speaker said that the Constitution should be the basis of the CHR in performing its duty.

"Yun na nga yung mali that they are trying to preach," Alvarez said, referring to the CHR's interpretation of its function. "Alam mo kaya ko sinasabi na itong mga appointees itong mga commissioners dyan sa CHR including yung kanilang chairman ay hindi nagbabasa ng Saligang Batas."

Alvarez emphasized that in the Constitution, the CHR is mandated to protect the rights of all people and not just a certain group.

Fariñas also read functions of the CHR stipulated in the Constitution and asked the commission to give a report on what it had done in the Mamasapano massacre in which 44 police commandos were killed by combined forces of Muslim rebels in the country's volatile south.

The CHR actually submitted the report in 2015, 

Loretta Ann Rosales, CHR chairperson at the time, said that the scoping mission conducted by the team that it sent to Mamasapano in Maguindanao established facts that "engender belief that violations of human rights and international humanitarian law have been violated during the incident."

'Politicans are victims too'

Oriental Mindoro Rep. Reynaldo Umali, the chairman of the House Justice panel, also expressed his dissatisfaction over how the CHR has been performing its duties.

"Kami nga kahit kaming mga pulitiko biktima," Umali claimed, accusing the CHR of doing nothing over the reported harassment of politicians by Maoist rebels during the campaign season.

"Mamasapano, bakit hindi nila inimbestigahan?" the majority leader asked again. He also advised the CHR to "reorient," so it would be able to fulfill its functions.

Umali and Fariñas were part of the majority coalition during the 16th Congress and did not raise these issues with the CHR then.

READ: Alvarez calls social media critics of CHR budget 'fools'

Alvarez said that CHR Chairman Chito Gascon's resignation is not their primary consideration in agreeing to fund the commission.

"Kung mag-resign o hindi, hindi e hindi yan masyado yung primary concern namin. Kailangan yung mandato nila gawin nila," he said.

READ: Drilon warns of budget impasse if House insists on P1,000 CHR budget

He said that the House was not being selective in scrutinizing the budgets of government agencies and offices.

Alvarez said that the same rigor was applied in assessing the budget of the Office of the President.

"Huwag niyong isipin na naging selective kami rito dahil nung unang-una pinahold ko yung budget ng Office of the President kasi nakita ko na yung kaso nga ng ERC chairman mahigit isang taon na yan nakabinbin sa Office of the Executive Secretary limang kaso ang finile against the chairman," he said, adding that the House passed the OP's budget on the condition that it would resolve the issue in two weeks.

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