MANILA, Philippines – Albay 1st District Representative Edcel Lagman on Tuesday, September 26, hit the House leadership for still cutting more than P100 million from the proposed budget of the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) for 2018.
“With its slashed budget, the CHR will be hampered in its human rights protection and promotion of advocacy and programs,” said Lagman, a member of the opposition in the House of Representatives.
Key House leaders – Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez, Majority Leader Rodolfo Fariñas, and Davao City 1st District Representative Karlo Nograles, the chairman of the appropriations committee – had met with CHR Chairperson Chito Gascon on September 20, during which they managed to iron out differences over the commission’s mandate and its 2018 budget. (READ: CHR thanks House for ‘open minds, hearts’ after budget restored)
The House, on the last day of plenary budget deliberations, had decided to cut the CHR’s budget to a measly P1,000 for 2018, supposedly because it is not doing its job properly. Lawmakers insist the CHR is being selective in prioritizing cases of human rights abuses allegedly committed by police and soldiers.
The CHR, meanwhile, has pointed out that its primary mandate is to check on possible cases of abuses by the state. It said it simply does not have the resources to check on all cases – including those by common criminals.
Nograles had announced they would be restoring the CHR’s budget by the time the 2018 General Appropriations Bill is brought to the House plenary for 3rd and final reading. Instead of giving the CHR more than P600 million, however, the House is only giving it P508.7 million.
The House is expected to pass the proposed 2018 budget on Tuesday.
Lagman said the CHR cut can be broken down as follows:
- P47.040 million for human rights protection
- P24.441 million for human rights promotion
- P33.392 million for human rights policy advisory
- P10 million for equipment capital outlay
Lagman was among those who voted against the House move to cut the CHR budget in the first place. Of those present during plenary, at least 37 voted against the move. More than 113 stood up to vote in favor of the budget cut.
Even before the controversial budget cut, the CHR had been the focus of attacks, led by no less than President Rodrigo Duterte himself. The CHR has been vocal against suspected killings linked to Duterte’s drug war.
More than 3,000 people have been killed in police anti-drug operations, and even more have been killed in homicides with links to illegal drugs, according to police. The motives behind thousands more deaths – some of them, vigilante-style killings – have yet to be determined.
Hundreds of thousands of suspects have also been arrested over drug charges, while more than a million have “surrendered” through a literal knock-and-plead campaign where police visit alleged drug users in their homes and tell them to quit the habit.
Duterte and the police have been accused of breaking the law in the name of the drug war, an allegation they deny.
The public outcry grew after two teenage boys died at the hands of Caloocan City police. Critics of Duterte’s policy say the CHR is especially important given the human rights situation in the country.
The administration seemed to agree with this back in May, when the Philippines, during its report to the United Nations (UN) Human Rights Council, boasted of a higher CHR budget from 2016 to 2017 as an achievement in its efforts to promote human rights.
“Congress recognized the need for the CHR to increase its resources and expand its activities in relation to the investigation of human rights cases, provision of assistance to victims and other operational programs,” the Philippines said in its report to the UN Human Rights Council in May. (READ: If CHR gets P1,000 budget, Duterte wants UN to monitor drug war)
From a P439-million budget in 2016, the CHR’s budget grew to P724.6 million in 2017. The 2017 budget was initially prepared by the Aquino administration and later, defended by the Duterte administration.
Gascon said it was at the Senate where the CHR’s budget was given a huge boost, led by its sponsor, Senator Panfilo Lacson. Lacson will also sponsor the 2018 CHR budget, which had earlier been approved by the Senate’s finance committee.
Despite the controversies surrounding it, the drug war has popular support in the Philippines. – Rappler.com