MANILA, Philippines – The Senate added P156.4 million to the proposed 2018 budget of the Commission on Human Rights (CHR), in stark contrast to the proceedings in the House of Representatives.
The Senate has submitted for plenary approval the CHR budget for next year amounting to P693.5 million.
This is higher than the House version of P537.7 million. The CHR originally proposed P651.9 million in the National Expenditure Program.
Senator Panfilo Lacson, sponsor of the CHR budget, defended the agency’s proposed allocation on Monday, October 9, during the deliberations.
Only Senate Majority Leader Vicente Sotto III interpellated him, as he asked the CHR about the status of the assistance to victims of the Zamboanga siege in 2013.
“Based on the 2016 budget of the CHR, and based on COA’s recommendation, CHR Regional Office IX in Zamboanga failed to pay on time the financial and community assistance to the victims of human rights violations. This is in contrast to the CHR mandate. May we know the reason for the delay?” Sotto said.
Lacson, citing CHR information, said the agency has already disbursed P5.38 million for 1,729 victims, as of June 30, 2017.
Sotto replied: “So can we safely say that this has not happened in the rest of the country?”
Lacson said the agency already expedited the release in Zamboanga and is doing the same nationwide.
“They’re aiming for zero backlog. By the end of the year, they should have achieved that,” he added.
Sotto also questioned why the CHR has 328 vacant positions. He pointed out that the agency only has 526 filled positions out of the 854 authorized.
“They have 200 items, the budget is only approved for the fiscal year. [They’re] in the process of hiring personnel,” Lacson said.
Sotto also asked about the commission’s unobligated allotment of P21 million. Lacson replied that during last year’s debates on the 2017 budget, he moved to give an additional P100 million for a CHR building. This, he said, could be the reason why the P21 million remains unspent to date.
“For this fiscal year, CHR budget last year, I amended the GAB (General Appropriations Bill) to give them additional P100 million that’s for infrastructure. Probably the reason why it’s unobligated is that they have not yet perfected the bidding for those infrastructure,” Lacson said.
Sotto then ended all his questions and moved that the CHR budget be approved for plenary consideration.
The Senate Majority Leader added that he still has other questions on the statistics on killings in the country, but quickly said he would just raise those in other Senate hearings.
“In deference to the chair, the chair and I have something in common, and to the sister of the presiding officer, I terminate my interpellation of the budget of the Commission on Human Rights. I move to submit,” Sotto said, referring to CHR Commissioner Gwendolyn Pimentel-Gana, sister of Senate President Aquilino Pimentel III.
No senator objected to the motion.
The smooth process for the CHR budget in the Senate is in stark contrast to what happened in the House of Representatives, where the commission was initially granted a measly allocation of P1,000 for supposedly failing to do its job. (READ: How the House voted for a P1,000 CHR budget)
After the Senate approves its own version of the 2018 budget, both chambers of Congress would convene a bicameral conference committee to thresh out differences.
The CHR has been the focus of criticism, particularly from President Rodrigo Duterte, following its statements against the government’s war on drugs.
The commission has repeatedly expressed concern over deaths linked to the drug war. (READ: CHR hits PNP’s limited definition of extrajudicial killings) – Rappler.com