Alvarez on CHR budget cut: It’s about accountability

Bea Cupin
'This is not a question of weakening their rights,' says Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez, after the House reduced the CHR budget for 2018 to a mere P1,000

ACCOUNTABILITY. House Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez says there's no politics, just accountability behind the decision to slash the CHR budget. File photo by Mara Cepeda/Rappler

MANILA, Philippines – House Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez on Thursday, September 14, defended the House of Representatives’ decision to slash the proposed 2018 budget of the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) to a measly P1,000.

Alvarez insisted once again that the CHR was not doing its job properly and fairly.

“Maliwanag naman ‘yung message doon sa House of Representatives… kaya namin binibigyan ang CHR ng P1,000 na budget dahil malinaw na hindi nila ginagawa o ginagampanan ‘yung tungkulin nila sa taong bayan,” the Davao del Norte 1st District Representative said in a radio interview on dzMM.

(Our message at the House of Representatives is clear. We gave the CHR a P1,000 budget because it’s clear that they are not doing their job.)

“Mayroon silang notion na kailangan lang daw ay bantayan nila ‘yung mga puwersa ng gobyerno ay hindi lumampas doon sa karapatang pantao nung mga kriminal. Aba, malinaw na malinaw ang Saligang Batas na dapat protektahan nila at pangalagaan ang karapatang pantao ng lahat ng tao, hindi lamang ng mga kriminal,” he added.

(The CHR has this notion that its mandate only covers ensuring that state forces do not commit human rights violations against criminals. But it’s clear in the Constitution that they have to protect and ensure human rights of all people, not just of criminals.)

The CHR was created in 1987 through several articles in the Constitution, the Administrative Code of 1987, and Executive Order (EO) 292. Article XIII of the Constitution defines its functions. Under EO 292, issued in 1987, the CHR’s approved annual appropriations “shall be automatically and regularly released.”

In various posts on its official social media account, the CHR has explained that its primary function is to check and prevent possible abuses by state actors, including soldiers and police.

It pointed out that victims of criminals already have several institutions to make sure their rights are protected – the police, prosecutors, and the courts, among others.

‘Accountability’

Amid criticism, Alvarez insisted that the House’s move was not meant to cripple human rights in the country. (READ: Legislators explain yes, no, abstain, non-votes for slashed CHR budget)

“Again, this is not a question of weakening their rights, this is a question of accountability to the people. Kami po, representatives kami ng mga tao, kailangan we have to hold them accountable to the people dahil hindi nila ginagawa ‘yung trabaho nila, ‘yung tungkulin nila base sa mandato ng ating Konstitusyon,” Alvarez, himself a lawyer, said.

(This is not a question of weakening their rights, this is a question of accountability to the people. We are representatives of the people. We need to hold them accountable to the people because they are not doing their job, their job based on the Constitution.)

Alvarez also brushed off CHR Chairperson Chito Gascon’s allegation that the budget cut was a political move.

“Tabingi talaga ang utak noon. Paanong pinupulitika? Magpakita muna siya ng trabaho niya,” the House Speaker said. (His thinking is warped. How did we politicize it? He should first show that he’s doing his job properly.)

Alvarez instead accused Gascon of politicking, citing the CHR chairperson’s visit to detained Liberal Party Senator Leila de Lima as an example. “Sige, dumalaw siya kay Senator De Lima doon sa kulungan. Tinanong ko, dumalaw ka rin ba doon sa ibang nakakulong? Hindi daw, kasi wala na daw siyang oras, at mayroon naman daw ibang commissioners na puwedeng gumawa noon. Bakit siya namimili? Sino ba ang namumulitika dito?” he said. 

(Sure, he visited De Lima in jail. I asked, did you visit other detainees too? He said he didn’t because he had no time and other commissioners could do it. Why is he discriminating against others? Who is politicking here?)

Alvarez, still talking about Gascon, added: “Malinaw na malinaw na naging… chairman din ‘yata ‘yan ng Liberal Party noong araw… ‘Yung karapatang pantao lang ng Liberal, ‘yung mga kapartido niya, ‘yun ang pinapangalagaan niya, hindi ‘yung karapatang pantao ng sambayanan.”

(It’s clear. I think he was even Liberal Party chairman back then… He’s only defending the human rights of the Liberal, his party mates. That’s what he’s thinking about instead of the rights of all Filipinos.) 

House vs Senate? 

The Speaker again questioned why the CHR does not have a “program” for victims of criminals, including massacre victims. “Maute, Marawi, kumibo ba ang CHR? Wala. Ano ang programa nila? Wala. Paano nila poprotektahan ang mga karapatan nitong mga innocent victims na ito?” he added.

(Did the CHR talk about the Maute Group in Marawi? No. What’s their program? Nothing. How will they protect the rights of the innocent victims?)

Martial law was declared in Mindanao, following an attempt by the Maute Group to seize Marawi City on May 23. The crisis has yet to be resolved, and government troops have stepped up their presence in the area and neighboring provinces given the threat.

The CHR has consistently reminded the government – the military in particular – to uphold human rights as they implement martial law.

Alvarez, even during committee hearings on the CHR budget, repeatedly expressed disapproval over the commission’s supposed failure to exercise its mandate.

Despite the House’s controversial decision, it does not mean that P1,000 will be the CHR’s final budget for 2018. Once the House passes the budget on 3rd and final reading, it will transmit that bill to the Senate, which is holding its own deliberations on the proposed budget.

Any differences between the two versions will be ironed out through a bicameral conference committee, composed of representatives from both chambers. Senators have already pledged to defend the CHR budget.

Alvarez said that while he respects the Senate’s take on the CHR budget, it cannot simple dictate on the House.

“Puwede po kaming mag-usap doon [sa bicameral committee], pero hindi po puwede kung ano ‘yung gusto nila [iyon] ang susundin namin,” he said. (We can talk about it during the bicameral committee conference. But we cannot just do what they want.) – Rappler.com

Bea Cupin

Bea is a senior multimedia reporter who covers national politics. She's been a journalist since 2011 and has written about Congress, the national police, and the Liberal Party for Rappler.