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'Supportive' Palace welcomes restoration of CHR budget

Presidential Communications Secretary Martin Andanar welcomed the decision of the House of Representatives to restore the original budget of the Commission on Human Rights . PPD/File

MANILA, Philippines – Malacañang on Thursday welcomed the decision of the House of Representatives to restore the original budget of the Commission on Human Rights, saying the Executive branch has been supportive of the constitutional body that has been critical of the government’s drug war.

In a text message to reporters, Palace Communications Secretary Martin Andanar hailed the House’s move and claimed that the CHR has always been backed by the Executive branch.

“It is good to know that the lower house and CHR have ironed out their differences,” Andanar said.

“The Executive department has always been supportive of the CHR as you can see in the budget proposed by the DBM,” he added.

Last week, the House of Representatives, which is dominated by President Rodrigo Duterte’s allies, approved a motion to slash the budget of the CHR to P1,000 from the Department of Budget's proposed P678 million.

READ: House gives CHR a P1,000 budget | Who moved to give the CHR a P1,000 budget?

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The decision was greeted by a wave of criticism and warnings of a budget gridlock with the Senate, the House panel on appropriations on Wednesday said it will endorse the restoration of the CHR’s budget.

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.

In August, Duterte said security forces should shoot CHR personnel if they are found to be obstructing justice. This was after his threat to abolish the body, a remark later dismissed as a “joke.”

He also earlier suggested using the budget taken away from the commission to buy body cameras for policemen as his crackdown on illegal drugs and crime faces intense public scrutiny following the successive deaths of teenagers.

READ: Duterte slams CHR chief: Are you a pedophile? | Gascon: Please elevate the level of discourse

Last week, the firebrand leader heaped insults anew at CHR Chairman Chito Gascon, asking him if he is “gay” or a “pedophile” for allegedly being so concerned with the killing of minors under the government’s narcotics crackdown but ignoring other cases of abuse.

Duterte also said he wants to meet Gascon one of these days, and accused the CHR chief of being a political pawn and spokesman of the Liberal Party and other critics who want him out of the presidency.

Despite his diatribes against the CHR chief, Duterte had insisted that he is not in the business of destroying government institutions.

Even before the House slashed the CHR's budget, Duterte and his allies have lashed out at the CHR and accused it of siding with criminals.

In July, the president threatened to abolish the CHR and demanded that it investigate the New People's Army for attacking a convoy of his presidential guards in North Cotabato. The CHR has maintained that its main function is to check the state and state agents for rights abuses and make sure the government meets its obligations under international humanitarian law.

He walked back his comments after being reminded that he cannot abolish the CHR because it is a constitutional commission.

“Itong human rights, sabi ko... biro lang naman yung sinabi kong I will abolish you. I need Congress to do that,” he said at the anniversary of the Bureau of Internal Revenue in August. “Ni-lecturan pa ako ng mga ulol. Hindi ko daw magawa yan. Alam ko.”

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