(Eagle News) – Several senators expressed their disappointment that the House of Representatives had voted to give the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) a meager P1,000 budget, as they vowed to give the commission the P678 million it had asked for 2018, or even just re-allocate the P749 million budget it had for this year.
Senator Panfilo Lacson, the sponsor of the P678 million budget for the CHR, said that he would continue to support CHR on its budget needs.
As far as he knew, he said, no senator would support the House’s controversial move to give the CHR a P1,000 budget.
“Kung titigasan namin at nakita ko titigasan namin sa Senate, kasi nagbibilang ako sa mayorya halos walang maiiwanan na magsusuporta sa P1,000 budget ng CHR,” Lacson told reporters.
Just this Monday, Sept. 11, the Senate finance committee approved the P678-million CHR budget for next year.
This 2018 CHR budget, already approved by the Senate committee, includes a P28.565-million budget for the Human Rights Violations Victim’s Memorial Commission.
The 2018 budget was even P47 million lower than its P724.9 million budget for 2017.
Senators mull reenactment of 2017 budget in case of deadlock
Senator Franklin Drilon said that the Senate as a whole would not agree to the P1,000 budget granted by the House to the CHR, as it virtually meant abolishing the constitutionally mandated agency.
“We will take the position that if the House will not agree to restore the budget of the CHR, then so be it, we will have a reenacted budget. The Senate, I would like to think, will not stand for the abolition of the CHR, through giving it a P1,000 budget,” Drilon said.
Lacson also backed the reenactment of the previous budget if the House would insist on its move against the CHR.
‘Di puwede ipasa muna ang lahat ng agencies, iwanan ang CHR. Ang tatamaan ang buong GA bill. ‘Pag inabot tayo ng December 31 at ‘di pa pinasa ang GA bill para maging GAA, talagang reenacted ‘yan,” Lacson said of the General Appropriations Act for 2017. The 2017 budget or GAA amounted to P3.35 trillion.
Senate President Pimentel, whose sister Gwendolyn Pimentel-Gana is a commissioner of the CHR, said that a reenactment of the 2017 budget is possible in case of a deadlock.
He stressed that the CHR deserved the budget that they had been requesting for 2018.
“The CHR deserves more than a P1,000. They deserve around P600 million,” he said.
Senators to fight restoration of CHR budget
Senator JV Ejercito also expressed his strong opposition to the House move to drastically reduce the CHR’s budget to just P1,000.
“I think the senators, at least most including myself, if not all, agree that the Commission on Human Rights is an indispensable agency of the state. CHR is a necessity and the Constitution mandates it. It functions as a guardian against abuse of those in authority,” he said.
“In the Senate, we will not make the CHR useless by denying it the money it needs in order to discharge its duty of protecting, preserving, and promoting human rights,” Ejercito stressed.
“Since its budget will still be discussed in the Senate, I am positive that we can work out something in order to provide the CHR with sufficient budget for its operation next year,” he added.
Senator Chiz Escudero said he will fight to restore the CHR’s budget allocation.
“The CHR is a constitutional imperative and a necessity, however inconvenient it may be for some. I will fight to restore its budget,” Escudero said.
Senator Hontiveros said she was saddened by the House’s move.
“Ito ay lubhang nakakalungkot at nakakabahala. Sa kabila ng kaliwa’t kanang patayan, ito pa ang gagawin ng ating Kongreso,” Hontiveros said.
“I call on my fellow senators to correct these terrible wrongs. The Senate must defend the people’s human rights and ensure that the government lives up to its international commitments,” Hontiveros added.
Senator Juan Miguel Zubiri also expressed his intention to defend the CHR budget. He said President Rodrigo Duterte has always said he would protect human rights in the country.
“Human rights is becoming a fractious issue in this early year of President Duterte’s Administration. I believe that the president himself knows the value of protecting human rights even if he is accused of being negligent and even blind to the abuses committed under his campaign against illegal drugs,” he said.
“As a constitutional body mandated to uphold human rights, the CHR deserves a working budget as proposed and as approved even by President Duterte and which finally was submitted to the House of Representatives,” he explained.
“In the Senate, I will work for the restoration of the CHR budget as submitted by the President,” Zubiri added.
With a vote of 119-32, lawmakers on Tuesday, Sept. 12, voted to reduce the CHR’s budget to just P1,000 after claiming that the commission had been selective in its investigation of human rights violation.
The voting was done upon the motion of 1-SAGIP Partylist Rep. Rodante Marcoleta.
It was Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez who had earlier made pronouncements that the CHR deserved only a P1,000 budget.
CHR says it will continue to function despite budget cut
CHR chair Chito Gascon called Congress’ move as a “display of vindictiveness.” He also described it as “caprious, arbitrary and whimsical.”
The CHR also issued a statement saying that it would continue to discharge its constitutionally mandated functions despite of Congress’ move.
“The Commission on Human Rights has always taken positions in favor of human rights. It does so without fear or favor, in a non-partisan manner, and as rightfully mandated by the 1987 Constitution. It is regretful that, in the performance of our duties, the House of Representatives opted to undermine our role as a check-and-balance mechanism of the government by allocating PHP 1,000 for our budget,” the CHR’s statement said.
It said that the lawmakers have “wrongly perceived” the CHR’s role as “combative rather than a collaborative effort to bolster Philippine democracy.”
The CHR also thanked the 32 lawmakers who voted against the CHR budget cut.