By Reynard Magtoto
With a vote of 119 – 32, the House of Representatives opted to undermine the role of Commission on Human Rights (CHR) as a check-and-balance mechanism of the government by allocating PHP 1,000 budget for 2018.
CHR regrets that the representatives who were on the affirmative side have wrongly perceived its role as combative rather than a collaborative effort to bolster Philippine democracy by ensuring that all public officials are honest in the performance of their duties and adhere to universally accepted principles of human rights.
“It is unfortunate that the same Lower House of Congress, who was crucial in deliberating these laws, has now chosen to deny the Commission its ability to meaningfully pursue its human rights protection, promotion, and policy-advisory functions through insufficient appropriations,” CHR stated in its press statement.
It was 1-SAGIP party-list Representative Rodante Marcoleta’s motion to reduce the agency’s budget from P678 million to P1,000, who argued that CHR should not be selective in investigating all human rights violations.
Marcoleta also pointed out that the CHR was also “invalidly” created under Executive Order (EO) 163 according to Marcoleta. “EO 163, which was issued on May 5, 1987 is invalid because that that time, Mrs. Cory Aquino, the president of the Philippines has already lost her legislative powers,” he said.
According to CHR, the Commission 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. They have called out violations and praised positive measures across administrations in promoting the societal goals of justice and rule of law.
Congress has even expanded CHR’s role beyond the Constitution by designating powers and functions in special laws, such as the Magna Carta for Women; the Anti-Torture Law; the Anti-Enforced Disappearance Law; and as Children’s Ombud, among others. It cooperates with different stakeholders and has assisted the Human Rights Offices of the Security Sector, as well as the Presidential Human Rights Committee.
In VERA Files Fact Check, President Rodrigo Duterte even recognized the role of the CHR when he signed General Order 1 on May 30, implementing Proclamation 216 which placed Mindanao under Martial Law.
Section 5 of the order states that “In the implementation of this Order, the constitutional rights of the Filipino people shall be respected and protected at all times. The Commission on Human Rights is hereby enjoined to zealously exercise its mandate under the 1987 Constitution, and to aid the Executive in ensuring the continued protection of the constitutional and human rights of all citizens.”
CHR thanked the 32 Representatives, who stood up with them during the budget deliberations.
“We are saddened by this whimsical and capricious display of vindictiveness. We were heartened by many members of the House who stood their ground to defy the tyranny of numbers shamelessly exhibited tonight. We are grateful to them and draw strength from their solidarity as we press on with pursuing our mandate to uphold and defend the human rights of all,” CHR Chairperson Jose Luis Martin Gascon said.
Despite the circumstances, CHR said that they will not turn their backs on their Constitutional duty to render justice for all and give everyone their due. The concern for human rights is beyond partisanship or disagreement according to them.
Based on an initial count by House plenary staff, the following lawmakers voted against the decision:
1.Gabriela Representative Emmi de Jesus
2.Quezon City 6th district Representative Jose Christopher Belmonte
3.BUHAY Representative Lito Atienza
4.Bayan Muna Representative Carlos Zarate
5.Kabataan Representative Sarah Elago
6.Magdalo Representative Gary Alejano
7.Anakpawis Representative Ariel Casilao
8.Gabriela Representative Arlene Brosas
9.ACT Teachers Representative Antonio Tinio
10.Cebu City 1st district Representative Raul del Mar
11.Albay 1st district Representative Edcel Lagman
12.Northern Samar 1st district Representative Raul Daza
13.Negros Oriental 1st district Representative Jocelyn Limkaichong
14.Maguindanao 1st district Representative Bai Sandra Sema
15.Dinagat Islands Representative Kaka Bag-ao
16.Agusan del Norte 1st district Representative Lawrence Fortun
17.Quezon City 3rd district Representative Jorge Banal
18.Akbayan Representative Tom Villarin
19.Manila 6th district Representative Sandy Ocampo
20.Marikina City 1st district Representative Bayani Fernando
21.Bukidnon 3rd district Representative Manuel Zubiri
22.Camarines Sur 3rd district Representative Gabriel Bordado
CHR, along with Energy Regulatory Commission and the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples are the agencies to receive only a P1,000 from the Lower House.
The proposed budget for the three agencies will still be deliberated in the Senate and in the Bicameral Conference Committee before they are submitted to President Duterte for final approval. (BaretangBikolnon.com)