DAVAO CITY (MindaNews / 13 Sept) — “The Commission on Human Rights (CHR) is a Constitutional body that Congress has no power to abolish,” former Senate President Aquilino “Nene” Pimentel said in reaction to the House of Representatives’ 119 – 32 vote Tuesday to give only 1,000 pesos budget to the rights body in 2018.
Granting a 1,000 peso budget to an office effectively renders its useless.
The CHR proposed a budget of PhP 623.38 million for 2018. Two other government offices were also given the same 1,000 peso budget by the House of Representatives : the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples (NCIP) and Energy Regulatory Commission (ERC).
Pimentel noted that the decision of the House to provide only a thousand pesos for a government agency “amounts to a self-inflicted censure of the way some government bodies are being run.”
But “those haughtily preposterous and unilaterally-imposed inane ‘sanctions’ may still be remedied not only by the President, but also by the Senate Committee on the Budget,” and “naturally, by the people, themselves, speaking out against those spiteful reactions that are most likely borne out of anger, that has no place in settling intra civil disagreements between or among government agencies which are all mandated to serve the wellbeing of the people.”
Of the 32 who voted against the 1,000 peso budget, eight are from Mindanao: Arlene Bag-ao (LP), lone district of Dinagat Islands; Ariel Casilao (Anakpawis); Lawrence Fortun (NP), 1st district Agusand del Norte; Evelyn Plaza Mellana (NUP), 2nd district, Agusan del Sur; Bai Sandra Sema (LP), 1st district Maguindanao and Deputy Speaker for Mindanao; Tom Villarin (Akbayan), Carlos Isagani Zarate (Bayan Muna); and Manuel Zubiri (Bukidnon Paglaum Party), 3rd district, Bukidnon.
Coming from a dark period in Philippine history where violations of human rights were rampant — martial law from 1972 until the dictator Marcos was ousted in February 1986 — framers of the 1987 Constitution ensured there would be an independent body that would monitor human rights violations to avoid a return to those dark days — and to ensure government’s compliance with international treaties.
The creation of the CHR was mandated by Article XIII of the 1987 Constitution (Social Justice and Human Rights) and provides that “the approved annual appropriations of the Commission shall be automatically and regularly released.”
In a statement reacting to the 1,000 peso budget decision, the CHR maintained it is a “Constitutional office created to serve the people as a State institution — separate and independent from the three principal branches of the government — as watchdog and protector against human rights abuses.”
“We have called out violations and praised positive measures across administrations in promoting the societal goals of justice and rule of law,” the statement read.
It thanked the 32 representatives “who stood up with us in our fight for this country and human rights during the budget deliberations at the House of Representatives.”
“Despite these circumstances, we will not turn our backs on our Constitutional duty to render justice for all and give everyone their due. The concern for human rights is beyond partisanship or disagreement. We shall seek means to move forward and navigate through the hurdles mindful of our oath to serve the people and the Republic — because it is what is right and what is needed of the times,” the CHR added.
The CHR has been investigating alleged human rights violations in the the bloody war on drugs of the Duterte administration.
“Gascon had it coming”
President Rodrigo Duterte has repeatedly called on CHR chair Jose Luis Martin “Chito” Gascon to resign for his alleged partisanship towards the “yellows” — referring to the Liberal Party of former President Benigno Simeon Aquino III.
Asked for his reaction to the 1,000 peso budget for the CHR, Duterte told reporters in Taguig, following the President’s visit to the wake of Capt. Rommel Sandoval who was killed in Marawi City Tuesday evening that Gascon “had it coming.”
He said representatives in Congress are angry at Gascon because “he opens his mouth in a most inappropriate way and he conducts the business of being CHR, walang alam” (does not know anything).
He said his attitude towards Gascon is “bigyan mo ‘yan ng budget (Give him a budget). For all I care kung anong gusto niyang imbestigahan.”
“Pero ako naman, since it is really an organ of government… it’s (in) the Constitution. Maybe someday, they (House of Representatives) might review their decision. Ako naman, hindi naman ako… I’m not here to destroy institutions,” he said.
Gascon, he claimed, meddles in the investigation and does not know his job “palibhasa nga hindi abogado” (because he is not a lawyer).
Gascon is a lawyer. He graduated from the University of the Philippines College of Law and has a Master of Law degree in International Law (Human Rights, Law of Peace, and Settlement of International Disputes” from Cambridge University.
Budget restored if Gascon resigns
CHR Commissioner Gwendolyn Pimentel-Gana, Pimentel’s daughter and sister of Senate President Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel, was reported by ABS-CBN News Channel as having been told by House Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez, Jr. that they would restore the CHR budget if Gascon resigns.
Gascon said he is not resigning. His seven-year term as CHR chair ends on May 5, 2022.
Aside from the CHR, the House also approved a 1,000 peso budget for the NCIP which proposed a PhP 1.132 billion budget. Bayan Muna Rep. Carlos Isagani Zarate, who moved for the 1,000 peso budget, cited the alleged failure of the NCIP to defend the rights of national minorities.
Last week, the House gave the ERC a 1,000 peso budget from its proposed P365 million budget.
Phelim Kline, Deputy Asia Director of Human Righst Watch said the 1,000 peso budget (around 20 US dollars) is an attempt by the Duterte administration to “prevent independent institutions to check its abuses, particularly in the context of the brutal drug war that has claimed the lives of thousands, including dozens of children.”
“While the CHR’s performance as a constitutional body may not have been fully satisfactory to many Filipinos, its mandate is important in combatting human rights abuses. Instead of defunding it, Congress should increase its resources and ensure that it fulfills that mandate,” it said. (Carolyn O. Arguillas / MindaNews)