House passes budget, seeks to abolish CHR, ERC, NCIP

Jess Diaz - The Philippine Star

MANILA, Philippines — The House of Representatives last night approved the proposed P3.8-trillion 2018 national budget on second reading, but not after giving three agencies just P1,000 each – a minuscule funding that will effectively shut down the Commission on Human Rights (CHR), Energy Regulatory Commission (ERC) and National Commission on Indigenous Peoples (NCIP). 

Despite the bad weather, congressmen convened to meet their self-imposed deadline to finish floor debates and vote on the budget.

Majority Leader Rodolfo Fariñas said the final and third-reading approval would take place after a week or two “after the budget is printed with all the amendments.”

Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez earlier vowed to cripple the CHR, which is a constitutional agency, and the ERC by drastically reducing their funding.

In the case of NCIP, it was Rep. Carlo Zarate of Bayan Muna who initiated the reduction of its P1.1-billion budget to just P1,000. Zarate said the agency has not been effective in protecting the rights of indigenous peoples.        

CHR was the last agency to be tackled before the House passed the 2018 budget on second reading.       

Rep. Rodante Marcoleta of party-list Social Amelioration and Genuine Intervention on Poverty moved for cutting the CHR budget from P623.4 million to P1,000.

To expedite the 2018 budget approval, President Duterte certified the budget proposal as urgent.

In a letter to the House of Representatives and the Senate, the President said he was certifying to the “necessity of the immediate enactment” of the proposed budget “to address the need to maintain continuous government operations following the end of the current fiscal year.”

He said the speedy approval of the proposal would also “expedite the funding of various programs, projects and activities for 2018, and ensure budgetary preparedness that will enable the government to effectively perform its constitutional mandate.”

Fariñas of Ilocos Norte told reporters that the final and third-reading approval would happen “when (budget) will already be printed with all the amendments, which will take a week or two.”

A bill that is certified as urgent usually urges the House or Senate to put the proposal on second and third-reading votes on the same day. Without the certification, lawmakers would have to wait for three days after the second-reading approval before taking it up for third reading.

On giving CHR practically no budget, Alvarez said the agency was more concerned about the human rights of criminals than of victims.

“They might as well get their budget from criminals instead of from the government,” Alvarez stressed.

Reps. Lito Atienza of Buhay, Edcel Lagman of Albay and Raul del Mar of Cebu City opposed Marcoleta’s motion to reduce the CHR 2018 budget. Del Mar argued that the House could not abolish a constitutional body by giving it a budget so small that it could not function normally, while Lagman argued that the CHR, by virtue of its jurisdiction, could only look into violations committed by the state or its agents.

Lagman added that the body has no jurisdiction over crimes committed by rebels and terrorists.

Atienza asked his colleagues: “Where are we headed? What are we trying to do? Why are we shutting down an agency whose mandate is to protect human rights?”

Despite their pleas, the House voted 119-32 to give CHR just P1,000 for next year.

The decision puts the House on a collision course with the Senate, which has approved the proposed P678 million for the human rights body for next year.

It was a subcommittee chaired by Sen. Panfilo Lacson that endorsed the CHR budget. Lacson is expected to insist on his panel’s endorsement during the bicameral conference on the 2018 outlay.

Last year, he stuck to his decision to remove P8 billion in pork barrel funds for Muslim congressmen from the Department of Public Works and Highways.

When the House batted for keeping the money with the DPWH, Lacson realigned it to free college education in state universities and colleges. The realignment started the free college tuition program.

P3.6-B budget for MMDA approved

On the initiative of Fariñas, the House briefly suspended the debate on general principles of the P3.8-trillion 2018 national budget so it could tackle the proposed P3.6-billion funding for the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority (MMDA).

“Agency officials have been here since this morning, so I move that we take up their appropriation so they could go back to work and check on flooding, traffic and on other typhoon-related issues,” Fariñas said.

Before the House approved that proposed MMDA budget, Atienza complained that it took him nearly three hours from Makati to the Batasan area in Quezon City despite the suspension of classes and work in state offices.

“Traffic along Edsa was bumper-to-bumper. The culprit was flooding at the Cubao underpass, which small cars could not negotiate. I want answers as to why this happened,” he said.

The MMDA officials said the Cubao underpass was flooded because its pump was clogged with garbage.

“I could not accept that there was no solution to it, even assuming that the pumping station was not working. When I was mayor of Manila, we purchased portable pumps, which we used to pump water out of the Maynilad underpass in front of city hall whenever it was flooded. You could have done that. All that is needed is common sense,” Atienza said.

He added that the key to solving the traffic problem in Metro Manila “lies largely in enforcing traffic rules and regulations consistently.”

Atienza suggested that MMDA chairman Danilo Lim always monitor his traffic enforcers, noting that “many of them hide somewhere, waiting for traffic violators.”

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