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A legal issue and a blow vs human rights

THE House of Representatives decision last Tuesday to reduce the budget of the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) from P678 million to only P1,000 constitutes a new low in its record.

The first and second times a vote was taken in the House – by viva voce – the “ayes” appeared to be as loud as the “nays.” Nominal voting was held and, no longer protected by the anonymity of a voice vote, 119 stood to approve the CHR decision, as decreed by House and party leaders, against only 32 against.

The Commission on Human Rights was created by the Constitution of 1987. “There shall be created an independent office called the Commission of Human Rights,” it provides in Section 17 of Article XII on Social Justice and Human Rights.

“The approved annual appropriations of the Commission shall be automatically and regularly released.”

For 2018, the Department of Budget and Management included in the proposed P3.7-trillion national budget the amount of P678 million for the CHR, but House Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez claimed the CHR was not doing its job. The CHR, it appears, had committed the sin of criticizing the many killings that have been connected to the police war on drugs.

President Duterte was critical of CHR Chairman Chito Gascon but denied he had anything to do with the House decision to slash the CHR budget. Maybe Congress will review that decision, he said.

The Senate led by Senate President Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel III, of PDP-Laban, the President’s own party, is expected to restore the original CHR budget. Sen. Panfilo Lacson, who had sponsored the CHR budget in the Senate budget hearings, said he expects the senators to cross party lines to take a unified position on this issue.

As may have expected, the House action on the CHR budget has drawn widespread criticism from various sectors, among them the United Nations special rapporteur, the human rights group Karapatan, the Bagong Alyansang Makabayan, the labor group Juan Manggagawa, Manila Auxiliary Bishop Broderick Pabillo, and Balanga Bishop Ruperto Santos.

Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon said giving the CHR a P1,000 annual budget amounts to abolition of a constitutional body. “This may set a dangerous precedent, especially among our constitutional bodies, including the Supreme Court,” he said.

But even without this legal issue which threatens our structure of government, the House action is seen as a move against the concept of human rights, and this is at the core of our culture as a nation.