Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, September 12) — Lawmakers frustrated over the performance of the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) gave the agency a P1,000 budget for next year, effectively rendering it useless.
One-hundred nineteen lawmakers voted for the token budget, while 32 were against it.
The House of Representatives had to vote three times before a final ruling was made — twice through voice or viva voce and the last by each member standing to indicate a vote.
House Majority Leader Rudy Fariñas said there is no breakdown of the voice votes. So when lawmakers with the nay votes challenged the ruling that the ayes had it, 112 members stood to affirm their aye vote, while 32 stood to vote against the measly budget.
Reps. Raul Del Mar (1st district, Cebu) and Edcel Lagman (1st district, Albay) said giving the CHR a P1,000 budget would mean abolishing it.
“CHR can no longer function on such ridiculous amount. We are actually abolishing, which we don’t have the power to do so,” Del Mar said.
But even House Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez himself is unconvinced the agency is doing its job.
“Gusto ko malinaw ‘to. Hindi naman zero. P1,000. Kasi hindi nila ginagawa ‘yung trabaho nila,” Alvarez told CNN Philippines’ The Source on Monday.
Budget adjustments are by the thousands, so P1,000 is the lowest amount an agency can receive.
Under the Constitution, the CHR should “investigate, on its own or on complaint by any party, all forms of human rights violations involving civil and political rights.”
The Constitution also specifies the CHR must “monitor the Philippine government’s compliance with international treaty obligations on human rights.”
“Kung gusto mo protektahan yung rights ng mga kriminal, eh kumuha ka ng budget doon sa mga kriminal,” said Alvarez.
“Ano’ng mandato nila doon sa Constitution ng Republic of the Philippines? Para protektahan ang karapatang pantao ng lahat. Hindi lang bantayan ang pulis, ‘yung gobyerno, kung maabuso,” he added.
[Translation: If they want to protect criminal rights, they should get their budget from criminals… What is their mandate of the Constitution of the Republic of the Philippines? Protect everyone’s human rights, not just watch over the police and government for abuses.]
CHR Chair Chito Gascon said the commission will keep doing its job despite the budget given by the House.
“For now we draw strength from the courage of our friends who supported us. We will encourage our employees to continue doing the hard work every day,” he said in an ambush interview.
Gascon added, “We will appeal to our friends in the Senate. In the end, whatever happens, we can reassure that the Commission on Human Rights will continue doing its mandate.”
In a statement, Gascon also expressed his gratitude to those who voted against the budget bill.
“We are saddened by this whimsical and capricious display of vindictiveness. We were heartened by the courage and commitment manifested by many members of the House who stood their ground to defy the tyranny of numbers shamelessly exhibited tonight.
Getting the budget back
CHR Commissioner Gwen Pimentel revealed Alvarez gave a condition on how the commission may regain its proposed P678-million budget.
“He did mention that if the chair would step down, then probably the budget would be increased or given to the CHR,” Pimentel said.
Gascon, however, said he will not quit.
“To threaten it with the reduction of the budget on the pretext of asking me to resign would lead to essentially be making the institution forever at the mercy of politics,” he said.
Aside from the CHR, the House also gave the Energy Regulatory Commission (ERC) and the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples (NCIP) a P1,000-budget for 2018.
The Senate will have its own decision on the fate of the budgets of the CHR, NCIP, and ERC.
The Senate will act on the proposed 2018 budget bill as approved by the House of Representatives. Differences will be reconciled in a conference committee. The reconciled version will be returned to the two chambers for ratification.
The administration plans to have President Rodrigo Duterte sign a new budget law before the next fiscal year begins in January.
CNN Philippines’ Joyce Ilas contributed to this report.
This article was originally published on CNN Philippines.