The House of Representatives has voted to slash the annual budget of the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) to just 1,000 pesos.
The vote today (Tuesday, September 12) casts doubt on the future of the CHR, which has a constitutional remit to hold the government and police to account for abuses against citizens.
The CHR has long been criticised by President Duterte and his allies. They claim the body should focus more on investigating crimes committed by terrorists and criminals. This, however, is the role of the police and judiciary.
Following the suggestion by Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez, 119 lawmakers voted to approve the minuscule budget, with only 32 voting against.
The proposed budget for the CHR was 649,484,000, including a retirement and life insurance programme.
Confusion over role of CHR
Proposing the 1,000-peso budget, Rep. Rodante Marcoleta said it would reflect the failure of the CHR to investigate rights violations by terrorists.
He also claimed that the CHR was not a valid agency having been created by President Cory Aquino in 1986 during the revolutionary government, when there was no Congress.
Rep. Edcel Lagman replied that it would be unconstitutional to give such a meaningless budget to a constitutional body, as the 1987 Constitution gave the CHR fiscal autonomy.
He also reminded the house that the CHR had no jurisdiction over common crimes, such as those committed by terrorists. It has jurisdiction only over rights violations perpetrated by the state and its agents.
“Emasculating and killing the CHR with an annual budget of only 1,000 pesos is unconstitutional, because it virtually abolishes a constitutional body or office by legislation,” he said. “We cannot abolish a constitutional office by legislation.”
Rep. Raul Del Mar, who sponsored the CHR’s budget proposal, denied that it was singling out the police for investigation.
“Does it occur to you that many victims of human rights violations could also be innocent people, even our neighbours, friends, and family?” he asked.
“Even assuming the CHR was deficient in its work, the remedy is not to terminate or immobilise the constitutionally-mandated agency.”
He added that the CHR, being a constitutional commission, could only be given a deficient budget if the Constitution were amended.
“Let the people who would vote on future amendment to the Constitution decide the fate of the CHR, not us by mutilating and mangling its budget,” he said.
Speaker says CHR is “useless”
Speaker Alvarez, in a televised interview with CNN Philippines, said the CHR deserved the very low budget for being a “useless” agency and for defending the rights of criminal syndicates.
He said: “Now, if you want to protect the rights of the criminals, get your budget from the criminals. It’s that simple. Why should you get budget from the government and yet you are not doing your job.”
The chairman of the CHR, Jose Luis Martin Gascon, described the decision as “arbitrary, whimsical and capricious”.
“We don’t know what the reasons are for this determined push of the Speaker and the majority in the House for doing this,” he said.
“We had hoped that both the Speaker and the House Majority would have been persuaded by reason and necessity to allocate an adequate budget to CHR in order for us to effectively perform our constitutional mandate as an independent office to protect human rights.”
Mr Gascon said he would appeal the budget before the Senate.
The House also voted a 1,000-peso budget to the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples, supposedly for the commission’s failure to act on the killings of indigenous group leaders.
After the session adjourned, lawmakers lined up for a photo opportunity, holding up their clenched fists in an apparent sign of support for President Duterte.
The 32 lawmakers who opposed slashing the CHR’s budget were:
•Gabriela Rep. Emmi de Jesus
•Quezon City Rep. Jorge Banal
•Quezon City Rep. Jose Christopher Belmonte
•Buhay Rep. Lito Atienza
•Bayan Muna Rep. Carlos Zarate
•Kabataan Rep. Sarah Elago
•Magdalo Rep. Gary Alejano
•Anakpawis Rep. Ariel Casilao
•Gabriela Rep. Arlene Brosas
•Act Teachers Rep. France Castro
•Act Teachers Rep. Antonio Tinio
•Cebu City Rep. Raul del Mar
•Albay Rep. Edcel Lagman
•Northern Samar Rep. Raul Daza
•Negros Oriental Rep. Jocelyn Limkaichong
•Maguindanao Rep. Bai Sandra Sema
•Dinagat Islands Rep. Kaka Bag-ao
•Agusan Del Norte Rep. Lawrence Fortun
•Akbayan Rep. Tom Villarin