MANILA, Philippines – Commission on Human Rights Executive Director Jacqueline de Guia expressed concern that the proposed cut in the CHR’s 2023 budget may pose more challenges in the conduct of their vital work against state abuses, especially in the aftermath of the administration of Rodrigo Duterte.
The National Expenditure Program (NEP) submitted to Congress by the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) allotted P803,283,000 for the CHR in 2023.
This amount is a reduction of P118,233,000 from its budget in 2022, when it received P921,156,000.
In a statement sent to Rappler on Monday, September 5, De Guia said she hopes Congress will increase the commission’s budget as allocation of adequate resources is “a mark of the government’s respect for the work of an independent national human rights institution.”
Doing so will help ensure that the commission will operate efficiently in carrying out its work, including investigations into alleged human rights violations in the Philippines, she added.
The CHR originally proposed P1.6 billion for its 2023 budget, almost 50% higher than what was included in DBM’s NEP.
De Guia is the current officer-in-charge of CHR, as President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. has yet to appoint a new chairperson and commissioners of the en banc. The previous en banc’s term, chaired by human rights lawyer Chito Gascon until his death in October 2021, ended on May 5, 2022.
Possible reduced operations, unfunded programs
Among those that CHR fears will be affected by the lack of budget are the hiring of more personnel, as it seeks to fill in 210 vacancies, as well as other operational expenses.
From P525,733,000 allotted for personnel services in 2022, CHR is proposed to receive P497,329,000 for 2023. Meanwhile, the budget for maintenance and other operating expenses is down to P305,944,000 from P368,220,000 in 2022.
The commission has long been plagued by issues of lack of manpower, especially as it grapples with investigations into drug war killings, among others, across the country.
Each CHR regional office usually has only five to eight special investigators, with one handling a huge load of cases on top of administrative work. They often have to travel far to conduct their work since the commission’s regional bases are situated in central areas.
“CHR, with the proposed additional budget for travel and vehicles, envisioned an improved ability to reach more far-flung areas where our work is equally needed and where most vulnerable, underserved sectors reside,” De Guia said.
“A reduced funding will severely limit the investigation and case management programs due to the reduced funding for local travels, fuel and insurance expenses, as well as repair and maintenance of vehicles,” she added.
The CHR also said that the reduced budget can affect its ability to provide assistance to victims of human rights violations. They fear that this can severely impact the pursuit of legal cases in the fight for justice for victims, including those killed under Duterte’s war on drugs.
Data from the CHR shows that it is currently handling 3,892 cases of drug war-related killings, with a total of 4,529 victims, as of June 2022. Out of the total cases, 2,274 were committed during police operations while 1,618 involved unidentified suspects.
Government data, meanwhile, shows that 6,252 individuals were killed in police anti-drug operations between July 2016 and May 31, 2022. This does not include those killed vigilante-style, which human rights groups estimate to be between 27,000 to 30,000.
No budget for climate change report follow through
The proposed NEP budget also did not include the CHR’s proposed funding for its follow through plans in relation to the landmark report of the commission’s National Inquiry on Climate Change, the first of its kind.
The CHR report released in May 2022 stated that climate change has negative impacts on Filipinos as it is “adversely affecting the right to life,” adding that “neglect in mitigation may be considered human rights violation.”
According to De Guia, the funding was meant for the “intended popularization” of the report’s findings and recommendations.
“The item aims to contribute to a better understanding of the linkage and interplay between human rights and climate change, and provide a platform for policy development among relevant stakeholders to develop and integrate policies and actions related to human rights and climate change,” she said.
Not the first time
This is not the first time that the CHR has faced budget-related issues.
In 2017, at least 119 lawmakers from the House of Representatives packed with Duterte allies voted in favor of slashing the commission’s 2018 to a measly P1,000 in retaliation for the CHR’s condemnation of the drug war killings. Only 32 lawmakers opposed it.
This plan, however, backfired as lawmakers and the Duterte administration faced huge backlash from the public, who called for their hard-earned taxes allocated to CHR.
In the years since then, the CHR leadership has asked for more increased funding to address the piling work load as well as in response to significant differences between the budget the NEP allocated and what the commission proposed.
In 2021, then-CHR chairperson Chito Gascon pleaded for additional funding from Congress for its 2022 budget. He said that the increased budget could help further strengthen efforts to prevent and investigate abuses in the country.
For the 2023 budget, CHR pleads the same.
“CHR exists to help the government meet and satisfy its human rights obligations,” De Guia said.
“We have always been willing to work with the government to this end, but we are equally hopeful that we are similarly enabled to do our mandate with the support of a reasonable budget,” she added. – Rappler.com