Philip­pine law­mak­ers at­tack rights com­mis­sion, chief justice

Kuwait Times - - INTERNATIONAL -

Philip­pine law­mak­ers have moved to cut the bud­get of the na­tion’s hu­man rights com­mis­sion to $20 and im­peach the Supreme Court chief justice in what crit­ics yes­ter­day la­beled part of a slide to­wards dic­ta­tor­ship un­der Pres­i­dent Ro­drigo Duterte. The twin votes in the House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives added to a grow­ing cli­mate of fear that Duterte is de­ter­mined to si­lence any­one crit­i­cal of his war on drugs, which has claimed thou­sands of lives and led rights groups to warn of a crime against hu­man­ity.

Duterte di­rectly drew a link be­tween Tues­day night’s vote to cut the Com­mis­sion on Hu­man Rights’ an­nual bud­get from 678 mil­lion pesos to 1,000 pesos and its in­ves­ti­ga­tions of the drug war killings and re­lated crit­i­cism by its chair­man. “He had it com­ing,” Duterte told re­porters late Tues­day, re­fer­ring to com­mis­sion chair­man Jose Gas­con. “They only gave him 1,000 pesos (about $20) be­cause Congress is an­gry.” The com­mis­sion is one of sev­eral in­de­pen­dent govern­ment bod­ies set up by the con­sti­tu­tion to check the power of the ex­ec­u­tive branch, which con­trols the coun­try’s po­lice and mil­i­tary forces.

The Supreme Court is meant to be an­other safe­guard. Duterte’s al­lies in the lower house’s justice com­mit­tee on Wed­nes­day also voted to im­peach its chief justice af­ter de­ter­min­ing cor­rup­tion al­le­ga­tions against her had sub­stance. The chief justice, Maria Lour­des Sereno, has been an­other critic of the drug war. She wrote Duterte a let­ter last year ex­press­ing con­cern over him pub­licly nam­ing seven judges as be­ing in­volved in the drug trade, warn­ing it made them vul­ner­a­ble to be­ing killed.

Duterte re­sponded by threat­en­ing to de­clare mar­tial law if Sereno con­tin­ued to in­ter­fere in his drug war. Should the en­tire house en­dorse the justice com­mit­tee’s find­ings against Sereno, the Se­nate would con­vene as an im­peach­ment court. The Se­nate still has to re­view and en­dorse the vote to slash the rights com­mis­sion’s bud­get. The Se­nate is also dom­i­nated by Duterte al­lies, but it has proved more in­de­pen­dent than the lower house and it could still over-rule the moves against the rights com­mis­sion and Sereno.

Path to dic­ta­tor­ship

Nev­er­the­less, crit­ics warned of au­thor­i­tar­ian rule un­der Duterte-a self-de­scribed so­cial­ist who has re­peat­edly praised late Filipino dic­ta­tor Fer­di­nand Mar­cos and Rus­sian Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin. “This leads us on a di­rect path to dic­ta­tor­ship,” Sen­a­tor Fran­cis Pangili­nan, leader of the Lib­eral Party, the coun­try’s main op­po­si­tion group, said in re­sponse to Tues­day’s vote. Teodoro Casino, a for­mer House mem­ber rep­re­sent­ing the left wing Bayan Muna party, ex­pressed sim­i­lar sen­ti­ments when com­ment­ing on the move against Sereno. —AFP

MANILA: This file photo shows Philip­pine Na­tional Po­lice (PNP) Di­rec­tor Gen­eral Roland dela Rosa, left, and Com­mis­sion on Hu­man Rights Com­mis­sioner Chito Gas­con, right, tak­ing their oaths at the start of a se­nate in­quiry into a spate of ex­tra­ju­di­cial killings in Manila.—AFP

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