CHR thanks House for 'open minds, hearts' after budget restored
MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) – He has been the subject of criticism a hundred times over by members of the House of Representatives. Still, Commission on Human Rights (CHR) Chairperson Chito Gascon on Wednesday, September 20, thanked the House leadership after they decided to restore the commission's budget for 2018.
"We are grateful to those who stood firm in championing human rights inside and out the halls of Congress as CHR affirms its commitment to advance All Human Rights for All People," said Gascon.
His statement came shortly after the House announced that the CHR budget and that of two other agencies would be restored by the time the proposed 2018 budget is passed on 3rd and final reading. (READ: House set to restore CHR, ERC, NCIP 2018 budgets)
Gascon added, "We thank the leadership of the House of Representatives for their open mind and open heart in accepting arguments of reason and necessity to continue to fund CHR's work." (READ: Want bigger CHR budget? Alvarez says Gascon should resign)
On the last day of plenary deliberations for the 2018 budget, the House voted to slash the CHR's budget to a mere P1,000. House Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez argued they did this because the CHR was supposedly not doing its job.
Lawmakers have insisted that contrary to the CHR's statements, its mandate should go beyond just chasing after violations by state actors and that it should also chase after criminals and even rebels. (READ: Alvarez on CHR budget cut: It's about accountability)
The House decided to restore the CHR budget after Gascon, and the heads of the Energy Regulatory Commission (ERC) and the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples (NCIP) sought a meeting with Alvarez through Majority Leader Rodolfo Fariñas and Davao City 1st District Representative Karlo Nograles, the chairman of the House appropriations committee.
The CHR's proposed budget of more than P600 million will be restored by the time the House passes the budget on 3rd and final reading on Thursday, September 21. (READ: How the House voted for a P1,000 CHR budget)
Although Nograles said in a statement that Gascon's reassurances prompted Alvarez to green light the restoration of the CHR budget, Akbayan Representative Tom Villarin said it was "the will of the people [that] made them backtrack."
"Using the budget as a political weapon against those critical of the administration or to demand submission by heads of agencies to Congress will create gridlocks and will not work for the interest of the people," he said in a statement.
Lawmakers who voted in favor of the CHR budget cut or those who were absent from plenary when it was discussed have been criticized both online and offline.
"Given the negative backlash on the leadership of the House and with the Senate restoring the CHR budget to what was originally proposed, they have to backtrack and restore the CHR's budget due to a strong public clamor," added Villarin, who is part of the House opposition bloc.
In a separate statement, opposition member Ifugao Representative Teddy Baguilat praised Gascon and the NCIP chairperson "for taking the high ground in seeking a dialogue with the House leaders for the restoration of their budgets."
He also praised Alvarez, Fariñas, and Nograles "for their humility and gamesmanship in agreeing to restore the budget."
Baguilat, however, insisted that the CHR's primary role is checking on state actors, and quipped: "If it's the intention of Congress that CHR also investigate HR violations done by criminals and rebels and terrorists, then we should not only restore the CHR budget but increase it because the scope is now going beyond its primary mandate."
Magdalo Representative Gary Alejano, in another statement, thanked both the media and legislators' constituents – people from their district or sectors – for the change in the House leadership's heart. He also cited the Senate's promise to restore the budget as a factor.
"The House leadership felt the overwhelming sentiments from the people and organizations from both local and abroad for slashing CHR's budget," Alejano said.
"Certainly, these pressures have reached the doorsteps of the leaders of the House. In the end, the voice of the people prevailed. The people's representatives heard them and acted accordingly." – Rappler.com