Rendering CHR inutile
It’s not that Congress is determined to abolish the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) especially after being on the receiving end of a public backlash over its passage of a paltry P1,000 budget for the agency.
As House Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez bluntly told anyone who cared to listen, their real target was CHR Chairman Chito Gascon whom they perceived to be “yellow” or aligned with the opposition Liberal Party (LP).
After hearing about the P1,000 budget, Gascon bewailed what he described as a “capricious display of power” or entitlement on Congress’ part, as he reiterated that the CHR is an agency created by the Constitution precisely to act as a check against the abuses committed by our law enforcement agencies and the military.
But it’s premature for now to launch any fundraising campaign for the CHR since budget deliberations are still ongoing. What is good is that Congress felt the public backlash which reminded them who their employers are.
And we hope that eventually President Rodrigo Duterte, a former Davao City prosecutor who handled cases of leftist militants who accused soldiers of abuses, can reconsider and give a more reasonable budget for the CHR.
Again, it’s really not about the CHR despite the rabid and recycled pronouncements by Duterte loyalists on social media. It’s about Gascon who has been publicly critical of the administration’s war on drugs which the President doesn’t take kindly on.
Since day one, the President has made it clear that he brooks no criticism, let alone questioning, of his vicious, relentless war on illegal drugs, its syndicates and even its users.
He has taken on the US and Europe and world leaders who questioned his war, had his subalterns file charges against critics, and goaded the police and the military into killing drug suspects who resist arrest.
In passing a P1,000 budget to the CHR, Congress reminded Gascon who his bosses are even if under the Constitution, the CHR chairperson along with the Ombudsman have fixed terms that shield them from political pressure and allow them to exercise some semblance of independence in pursing their mandate.
But aside from impeachment, there are other ways for the administration to pressure the CHR, and the budget is one of them. With Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno on their chopping block, it’s doubtful for now if Congress will pursue impeachment against Gascon.
Sure, there are other agencies that received minuscule budgets like the Energy Regulatory Commission (ERC), but the CHR’s function and role hits at the heart and rationale of why the 1987 Constitution was enacted in the first place. And that is to ensure that Filipinos regardless of their status in life won’t experience anew the Martial Law–era abuses of years past.