CHR keeps hope alive amid threatened budget
The Commission on Human Rights may be going through one of the toughest moments in its history, but its top leadership remains unshackled by criticisms and threat of budgetary reduction.
“I remain hopeful that reason and necessity would prevail with regard to the determination of an adequate budget for CHR by both the Senate and the bicameral committee,” CHR Commissioner Chito Gascon told The FREEMAN in a chat on Facebook yesterday.
He made the remark after the House of Representatives on Tuesday voted to cut the proposed P678 million annual budget for the commission down to just P1,000. A total of 119 house members voted in favor of the move; 32 were against it.
Gascon likewise said he was not bent to yield to calls for his resignation made by House Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez.
“Under the circumstances where the status of CHR as an independent non-partisan constitutional office is under attack, I will not leave my watch,” he said.
Established in 1987, the CHR is considered an independent national human rights institution mandated to conduct investigations on human rights violations against marginalized and vulnerable sectors of the society, involving civil and political rights.
On its website, the commission says it “commits to deliver prompt, responsive, accessible, and excellent public service for the protection and promotion of human rights in accordance with universal human rights principles and standards.”
Gascon said CHR's work must be shielded from “political contestation as human rights must be enforced like universal norms.”
Meanwhile, the CHR chief said he understands that some of their staff are concerned about their security of tenure as government employees when news of the so-called “defunding” reached them.
At the CHR's office in Central Visayas, for instance, personnel fear that if the budget cut materializes, most of them would lose their jobs. Programs meant to investigate human rights abuses by government employees, such as the Human Rights Protection Service, are also in danger of being torpedoed.
“Nonetheless, I assure them that their situation is foremost on my might, and I trust that the budget process will take their concerns into account,” said Gascon when asked for his message to CHR-7 workers.
Labor group Partido Manggagawa also came to the defense of CHR amid the budget debate.
“Congress has 119 of them and a P1,000 budget could be more than enough for their minimal upkeep Human rights workers are people who deserve to live a life of dignity as well as a safe and sympathetic environment,” PM-Cebu Spokesperson Dennis Derige said.
Derige said the “despicable action” of Congress against the CHR can also be deemed as anti-labor since most of the agencies' budgets go to wages and benefits, as well as the operations of their personnel.
“This is tantamount to constructive dismissal or political persecution at worst. In fact, this is an illegal act that warrants court actions,” Derige added.
Some senators have already expressed their intention to fight for the budget.
“I will work to restore an appropriate and adequate budget for the CHR. I am not just talking about the chairman, whom I respect, but also the membership of the commission,” said Senator Richard Gordon.
Gordon said CHR may not agree with the government all the time but he said that is its role — to expose possible abuses.
Senator Leila de Lima slammed those who voted to trim down the commission budget at the Lower House.
“Salute to the 32 congressmen who voted against the ridiculous budget of CHR. To the 119 lapdogs of Duterte who supported the political persecution of CHR, as well as the culture of fear and impunity of this government, shame on you,” she said.
“Sagad-sagaran na rin ang kapal ng mukha ng mga kongresistang sunudsunuran sa kabaliwan ng Malacañang,” she added.
Senator Risa Hontiveros said that the representatives' move to cut CHR budget is “a shameless rejection of the country's international and national commitments to champion human rights as enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.”
This government, she said, appears to be willing to use taxpayer's money to reward lies and incompetence rather than allow a constitution allycreated body to fulfill its mandate to protect the human rights of Filipinos.
It was reported earlier that the budget of the Presidential Communication Operations Office for next year is proposed to be at P1.35 billion but Hontiveros said the office has repeatedly failed to shore up public confidence due to its numerous errors in basic reporting.
Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon, for his part, warned that giving the CHR a P1,000 budget sets a dangerous precedent, saying it is tantamount to “constructive abolition” of a constitutional body.
It was Senator Panfilo Lacson who proposed a P678 million CHR budget for 2018.
Barangay officials and the police drape a tarpaulin bearing the words “Oh my God. I hate drugs!” on the gate of Babag 2 Elementary School in Lapu-Lapu City as part of the campaign against illegal drug use and trade.