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House panel restores budget of CHR, 2 other agencies

The House appropriations panel has received the "green light" to restore the budget of the Commission on Human Rights, Energy Regulatory Commission and the National Commission on Indigenous People. House of Representatives PRIB/Released

MANILA, Philippines (First published at 9:42 p.m. on Sept. 20) — The House panel on appropriations on Wednesday said it had been given "the green light" to restore the budget of the Commission on Human Rights and two other government agencies given an appropriation of only P1,000 for 2018, days after the decision of the chamber was greeted by a wave of criticism and threatened a budget gridlock with the Senate.

According to Rep. Karlo Nograles, the budgets of the three government agencies were reinstated after their heads "appealed" to the speaker.

"House Appropriations Committee Chair and Davao City Congressman Karlo Nogr ales today said his panel has been given the green light to endorse the restoration of the budget [of the three agencies]," Nograles said in a media statement.

CHR Chairman Chito Gascon, who has been at the receiving end of the vitriol of both Alvarez and President Rodrigo Duterte, agreed during the meeting with the speaker that the agency should probe human rights violations involving members of the police, the military and even civilians, according to Nograles.

Gascon's statement welcoming the budget restoration basically adopted the House rationale for the reinstatement.

"CHR affirms its commitment to advance all human rights for all people," he said as he thanked and expressed gratefulness to those who supported the agency both inside and outside the halls of Congress.

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He also thanked the leadership of the House for its "open mind and open heart" in accepting the arguments of "reason and necessity" to continue funding the CHR.

Following the CHR's critical comments on Duterte's brutal campaign against illegal drugs and allegations that it was protecting only the rights of criminals, the House voted 119-32 to appropriate only a measly P1,000 to fund the agency's operations for next year.

After the vote, Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez remained adamant and said that although his chamber was open to negotiations it would not just give in to the Senate where many senators openly stated they would restore the budget of the CHR.

Minority Leader Franklin Drilon even warned of a budget impasse and said that the Senate might just opt for a re-enacted budget instead of allowing the CHR to receive the meager amount.

Aside from the CHR's appropriation, the budgets of the Energy Regulatory Commission and the National Commission on Indigenous People were also reinstated by the House.

Alvarez, the acidic leader of Duterte's coalition at the House, has been critical of the CHR, which at one point he accused of doing nothing.

In a television interview, Alvarez even told the CHR to seek its budget from criminals since it was only protecting their rights.

The CHR in the past has disputed this allegation.

It said that its main mandate was to protect people from abuses of the state and its agents. The CHR may also step in if the rights of vulnerable sector such as women and the youth were violated, according to CHR spokesperson Jacqueline De Guia.

The agency on Tuesday announced that it was initiating a probe into the death of a freshman law student of the University of Santo Tomas.

The ERC's budget meanwhile was slashed to P1,000 from the proposed P351 million, effectively shutting down the agency following Duterte's pronouncements in the past that he would seek the abolition of the ERC or ask Congress to deny it funding for its operations.

NCIP's budget cut was initiated by Bayan Muna Rep. Carlo Zarate because of its alleged failure to protect the rights of indigenous peoples.

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