CHR keeps hope alive amid threat­ened bud­get

The Freeman - - FRONT PAGE - Mitchelle L. Palaub­sanon

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.”

ANTI-LA­BOR

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.

SUP­PORT­IVE SEN­A­TORS

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.

JOY TORREJOS

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.

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