MANILA, Philippines – Senator Panfilo Lacson vowed to fight for the P678-million budget of the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) for 2018, after the House of Representatives allocated only P1,000 for the constitutional body.
Lacson, sponsor of the CHR budget in the Senate, said he would stand his ground on the issue.
"Of course we will stand our ground on this matter and more. Once we get hold of the House version of the General Appropriations Bill, we will scrutinize it as we always do year in and year out," Lacson said in a text message on Tuesday, September 12.
"I happen to be the sponsor of the CHR budget in the Senate, along with a few other agencies like the DND (Department of National Defense), ARMM (Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao), etc. I accept the challenge," he also said in a tweet.
The House on Tuesday, with a vote of 119-32, gave the CHR a measly P1,000 for the coming year. It also approved on 2nd reading the proposed 2018 national budget or the General Appropriations Bill (GAB), amounting to P3.76 trillion.
CHR Chairperson Chito Gascon, in reaction, said the commission is hoping that "reason, necessity, and rational minds will prevail both in the Senate and in the bicameral committee."
The CHR, which has repeatedly slammed drug-related killings, has been the subject of criticism from President Rodrigo Duterte and his allies. The CHR, in 2009, also investigated Duterte for his alleged involvement in the Davao Death Squad.
House Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez earlier said the CHR should get no budget for 2018, citing its supposed failure to do its job.
The House proceedings are in stark contrast to that of the Senate, as the Senate finance committee approved the proposed CHR budget amounting to P678 million, lower than 2017's P749 million.
This includes P649.484 million for the CHR alone and P28.565 million for the Human Rights Violations Victims' Memorial Commission, according to the office of Senator Loren Legarda, the committee chairperson.
After the House approves the GAB on 3rd and final reading, it will be forwarded to the Senate for another round of deliberations.
Both chambers of Congress would then convene a bicameral conference committee to reconcile differences between their versions. (READ: Slides and Ladders: Understand the budget process)
Where did the slashed funds go?
Despite the huge cut of almost P677 million from the CHR's 2018 allocation, the House version of the national budget remained at P3.76 trillion.
Lacson expressed concern over this and questioned where the House realigned the slashed funds. The senator, a known critic of the Priority Development Assistance Fund, had warned of the resurgence of PDAF or "pork barrel" and questioned the lumpsum funds in the 2017 budget.
"P678-million CHR budget reduced to P1,000 but House version of 2018 national budget stays at P3.767 trillion. It's interesting to find out how the P677 million was chopped," Lacson said.
It was his opposition to "pork" insertions that led to the removal of P8.3 billion from the budget of the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) in 2017. Lacson said it was a redundancy and a violation of the Organic Act, as the fund was meant for projects in the ARMM but was placed under the DPWH. The amount was then transferred to the Commission on Higher Education to fund free college education.
"I remember last year when I insisted that the P8.3-billion pork be removed from the DPWH budget because it's violative of the Organic Act. It was realigned to CHED to subsidize free tertiary education instead. We did it last year. We will do it again this year," the senator said. – Rappler.com
Camille Elemia is Rappler's lead reporter for media, disinformation, and democracy. She won an ILO award in 2017. She received the prestigious Fulbright-Hubert Humphrey fellowship in 2019, allowing her to further study media and politics in the US. Email firstname.lastname@example.org