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Omissionon human rights

Our country has a long and storied history as one of the region’s leaders in protecting life and other human rights. We are the first country in Asia to establish a National Human Rights Institution (NHRI), our Commission on Human Rights (CHR). The Philippines is either a founding or pioneer member of the different United Nations, international and regional human rights organizations.

As such, it is a tough sentence when the UN Human Rights High Commissioner lends his official voice to the universal condemnation of the Philippine human rights situation and the perceived lack of respect for due process on the part of President Rodrigo Roa Duterte.

Coming, as it does, at this calamitous moment in time, we need the CHR budget cut like we need a hole in the head.

To the rescue. But not to fear, the Senate is here. Whatever sentiments this House vote has aroused (its only a second reading vote, mind you), all eyes have now ascended on the Senate as the last and best hope of human rights. The upper chamber is expected to set things right. Tocqueville was so moved by Senators in his visit to the American Senate in the 19th century that he spoke: “They represent only the lofty thoughts current there and the generous instincts animating it, not the petty passions ...”

Well, when you have certain members of the Senate reproving the CHR Chair to stop barking at the President or attacking government policies if he wants to keep his job, it seems that even the lofty are not immune to petty passions. Hankering for commentary to be confined to issues is a misappreciation of the role of the CHR. Precisely, we the people demanded in a Constitution personally ratified that there be a national mechanism to hold government in check for its abuses. It was crucial that the same be independent to stand up to the influence of the very institution it dares to confront. The bottom line was that we craved deliverance from evil.

Secretary Ernie Abella warns that the CHR Chair and Commissioners serve at the pleasure of the President. Presidential Legal Counsel Sal Panelo corrected this mis-impression by acknowledging that they can’t be fired though he strongly suggests that they should resign. All these are indicators that CHR is doing its job as the independent NHRI we envisioned, to owe fidelity not to the rule of one man but to the rule of law.

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The cut has not inflicted a mortal wound. It is, in fact, a blessing in disguise for reigniting passionate attention upon this issue of critical importance.

Backlash. Mainstream and social media have included voter reaction to the budget cut as news. To be sure, our congressmen are not defined by this solitary instance of judgment – though of their constituencies, there are sectors which confine themselves to single issues.

This CHR vote is but one of the several gut issues on which our representatives will be weighed. There are more in the pipeline: impeachments where judicial independence gets its turn on the dock, federalism, TRAIN, sexual orientation and gender identification and expression (SOGIE) act, same sex marriage, divorce. Before that, we had the death penalty vote and the approval of the martial law extension in Mindanao.

They may also be visited by their own voter’s remorse and support the restoration of the original CHR budget when it comes up for 3rd reading or final House approval of the conference committee report.

Who has it? I watched in amazement at the display of another one of the Legislature’s parliamentary fictions – the Viva Voce voting method (other prominent fictions are stopping the clock and invisible quorums). As most everything that is accomplished in the House is by unanimous consent, a determination by the chamber’s presiding officer of which of the ayes or nays carried the vote is not usually questioned. It is only when the presiding officer is in doubt that a standing vote may be requested by him.

At the CHR budget deliberations, all could hear, even on the televised coverage, that the nays had it overwhelmingly. At that point, the budget cut was already soundly rejected. But though it was the louder nay vote that won the day, the presiding officer ruled, not once but twice!, that the ayes had it. And then they followed up with a call for a standing vote. Just like that and just like Lazarus, the motion to divide the House was resurrected. And the rest, as they say, is history.

Philippine Association of Law Schools Board of Trustees Statement.

“In the next few weeks, the nation gears up for the impeachment of constitutional officers, namely, the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of the Philippines, Maria Lourdes P. A. Sereno, and the Chairman of the Commission on Elections, Andres D. Bautista.

The impeachment process, as we have witnessed in the recent past, had been characteristically political in character but subject to constitutional and legal parameters aimed at striking a constructive balance in the pursuit of truth and justice among constitutionally accountable public servants. As legal professionals and academicians we expect that the impeachment process will be conducted in the most judicious, fair and effective manner guided by the rule of law.

An informed public is crucial in gauging the acceptability of any resolution of the constitutionally mandated bodies in regard to the impeachment processes. We shall stand steadfast and resolute in assuming our solemn duty to provide guidance to our constituents and the general public as they witness this unfolding constitutional exercise.

We can only hope and pray at this stage that our legislators will assume their functions motivated by what is just and reasonable under the circumstances of each case. The nation awaits a display of political wisdom befitting the representatives of the Filipino people.”

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