Budget cut
SKETCHES - Ana Marie Pamintuan (The Philippine Star) - September 14, 2017 - 4:00pm

Whoever chairs the Commission on Human Rights, congressmen can be sure the person will criticize the current conduct of the war on drugs. Any CHR chief who fails to do this does not deserve the post. So it’s useless to vent their ire on CHR chair Chito Gascon.

In fact if congressmen weren’t busy licking the boots of their boss at Malacañang, they would be doing justice to their other role in a democracy besides legislation, which is to provide checks and balances to the executive.

As things stand, that function now seems to rest wholly on the Senate. Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez, who is behaving these days as if he’s ruler of the universe – and creating a host of enemies along the way – should learn from one of the longest serving of his predecessors, Jose de Venecia.

In his final days as House chief, Joe de V went around wearing a wristband amulet. This, he told us, was meant to protect him from all the backstabbers in the House. As we all know, the amulet didn’t work. Joe de V suffered more stab wounds (all in the back) than that corpse fished out of a creek in Gapan, Nueva Ecija, identified as 14-year-old Reynaldo de Guzman.

Power is fleeting, as even dictator Ferdinand Marcos – if he could rise from his hero’s grave – would tell you. This is good to keep in mind for all of us, but especially for those currently in power, including cops who are playing God and executing handcuffed teenagers who are pleading for their life. No psycho cop is invincible forever.

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The House super majority might yet report “mission accomplished” and inform Bossing that the CHR either has a new, compliant chairman, or has been effectively shut down.

As of yesterday, some congressmen appeared to be softening on the issue while others were washing their hands of the House approval of a token P1,000 budget for the CHR in 2018.

The backpedaling was not because of any particular affection for the CHR but due to the congressmen’s self-preservation instinct kicking in as usual.

Movie stars have launched a fund drive for the CHR even before a group proposed to crowdsource funding for the commission. The hashtag GiveMyTaxToCHR was trending yesterday.

In fact fund crowdsourcing is a good idea, given the current environment of impunity, to guarantee the independence of the CHR from political pressure. The amount raised is sure to fall far short of the P1.7 billion sought by the CHR. A shoestring budget obviously will limit the operations of the commission, but this limitation courtesy of Congress could give the CHR a louder voice in amplifying human rights abuses under the current regime.

Apart from the fund crowdsourcing, a proposal that enjoyed increasing support yesterday was to reduce the pay of congressmen to P1,000 a year. Several seats in the House, especially those of party lists whose representatives are anything but marginalized, also deserve to be abolished and, unlike the CHR budget, should never to be restored.

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Even if Duterte and his allies get their way, all is not lost in terms of going after human rights violators. We now have a law specifically against torture, and we’ve had laws for a long time against summary executions by state security forces. The Constitution expressly guarantees human rights even for arrested suspects.

It will be up to those in charge of our prosecution and judicial services to show that the justice system still works for those who want redress for human rights abuses.

With the executive as the implementer and Congress refusing to check abuses by the executive, only one branch of government is left to show that the state still has the capability and will to prevent systematic gross violations of human rights. I guess we’re in big trouble, considering the sorry state of our judiciary.

If even the justice system is deemed compromised, it will give the International Criminal Court reason to step in and act on a complaint for mass murder filed against President Duterte last April by the lawyer of Edgar Matobato, who claims to be a former hitman of the Davao death squad when Duterte was the city mayor.

Matobato came off as an unreliable witness. And the ICC can only probe a case for crimes against humanity if a state is unable or unwilling to hold the violators accountable. But when an international tribunal takes on a case, it means business.

Persons deemed complicit in the violations may be included in the charge sheet, so those involved in “One Time Big Time” police operations may want to take heed. If convicted, they will be in the company of notorious characters such as Iraq’s Saddam Hussein and Nazis led by Holocaust organizer Adolf Eichmann and Hermann Goring, creator of the Gestapo or German secret police.

As recently as 2012, Liberia’s former president Charles Taylor was sentenced to 50 years by an international court for crimes against humanity. Scores of other convicts including Saddam and Eichmann were executed.

President Duterte’s true friends should shield him from such a fate. He may be a fatalist and shrug off the possibility of rotting behind bars in a foreign land. In case it happens, even his relatives may simply grin and bear it. But others who might be indicted with him, in case a complaint prospers, might not have the same attitude and might worry about the stigma on their families.

Administration officials insist that such a complaint will not prosper before the ICC, and there are many Filipinos who continue to support the brutal war on drugs. But administration officials also know that there are groups actively pursuing such a complaint.

Cutting the CHR budget will give these groups additional ammunition to make the case prosper. The backlash is aggravating criticism of the war on drugs, and turning public opinion against the administration.

Why, if the CHR budget cut had not been the handiwork of the super majority, President Duterte might even accuse congressmen of sabotage.


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