OFFICIALS of the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) 7 were saddened by the move of Congress to minimize their annual budget to P1,000.
Last Tuesday, a total of 119 lawmakers approved on second reading to allocate P1,000 for CHR’s 2018 budget while 32 voted against the proposal.
In a statement, CHR 7 Director Arvin Odron told SunStar Cebu he shares the sentiment of all CHR personnel assigned in various offices nationwide.
“Understandably, nobody is happy with the decision of the Committee on Appropriations of the Lower House allotting the CHR a P1,000 budget for year 2018,” Odron said.
But Odron clarified that it wasn’t the end for CHR yet.
He said that the Senate recently approved their version of CHR’s 2018 budget worth P625 million.
Odron is banking on the decision of the Bicameral Conference Committee to come up with a reasonable budget from both House and Senate versions.
The Bicameral Conference Committee is composed of members of the House and Senate.
On his part, CHR 7 chief investigator Leo Villarino thanked the three Cebu congressmen who voted against the slashing of the commission’s budget.
Cebu Representatives Raul Del Mar (Cebu City, north district), Wilfredo Caminero (Cebu, 2nd district) and Aileen Radaza (Lapu-Lapu City, lone district) counted among the 92 lawmakers who voted against the reduction of CHR’s budget.
IBP Cebu City
The Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP) Cebu City Chapter, in a statement, opposed “in the strongest possible terms” the move.
“We must not allow this to happen and succeed with our voice muted or subdued, otherwise, we will have forsaken our oath and acquiesced to the erosion of law in our democracy,” the IBP Cebu City chapter said.
The move came as the CHR continues to be critical of the current administration’s war on illegal drugs, which saw the killing of thousands of individuals.
Pursuant to Section 18 of the 1987 Constitution, the CHR is mandated to “investigate, on its own or on complaint by any party, all forms of human rights violations involving civil and political rights.”
IBP Cebu City said lawmakers who voted in favor of the CHR’s budget reduction was “clearly a vindictive act...to cripple the CHR” after the agency denounced the administration’s war on drugs.
“De-funding the CHR will not only cripple its operation and render it powerless to help those that it is mandated to protect, but it also serves to further peddle the misconception that the CHR is useless for failing to investigate crimes committed by private groups and individuals,” the statement read.
The lawyers’ group reminded the Congress of its responsibility to “give highest priority to the enactment of measures that protect and enhance the right of all people to human dignity.”
“Going after the CHR is anathema to that mandate. It sends a wrong message to victims of human rights abuses, further propagates a culture of impunity in our society, and paints the picture that we are governed not by the rule of law, but of men,” the statement read. “It is a blatant affront to the Constitution and the very ideals and aspirations enshrined therein and sought to be achieved.”
Likewise, the lawyers’ group urged lawyers to educate people on the role and function of the CHR as an institution and its essence in a democracy.
Meanwhile, Lapu-Lapu City Mayor Paz Radaza is proud of the decision of her daughter, Rep. Aileen Radaza, who voted against the proposed P1,000 budget for the CHR for 2018.
In a press conference yesterday, Paz said the amount is too small for the operation of the commission for the whole year.
Aileen was among the 32 lawmakers who opposed the move.
“Aileen wondered how the CHR will operate with such a budget because it’s just too small. I texted her and I said ‘I’m proud of you,’” the mayor said.
Although the mayor believes that the proposed budget for CHR is not right, she also brought up how the CHR immediately concluded that the shame campaign in Barangay Pajo, Lapu-Lapu was a violation of the law.
“Let us say it was not right, but have they investigated? I believe that there is something right in the campaign, but they immediately generalized that it is unconstitutional,” she said.
Calling it a ridiculous move, Rep. Raul del Mar (Cebu City, north district) voted against the budget cut.
“Let the people who would vote on future amendments to the Constitution decide the fate of the CHR. Not us, not by mutilating and mangling its budget,” del Mar said in a statement explaining his “no” vote last Tuesday.
He said he voted against the proposal because giving the commission a P1,000 budget for the whole year would, in effect, “cripple, maim, even kill the commission, which surely is not what the Constitution intends.”
“We need to be reminded that the CHR was created to help curb excesses and abuses in the seat of power. The framers of the 1987 Constitution saw it fit to create CHR as an independent body, free of coercion or reprisal,” said del Mar.
Cebu City Mayor Tomas Osmeña, on the other hand, said that the budget cut is good for the CHR even if it may affect its service.
He said the CHR only asserts the human rights of the criminals and not those of the victims of crimes.
The mayor added that they can’t even defend policemen who killed criminals in the line of their duty.
“Under the way they exercise it, the criminals have human rights. It’s the victims who don’t have human rights. When a policeman gets killed or victim of rape, you think they will move? No,” he said.
The development also earned criticism from several legal groups including the School of Law of the University of San Jose-Recoletos.
In an official statement, the school denounced Congress’s move as it runs afoul to the mandate of the Constitution, particularly under Section 1 of the Article XIII that requires Congress to prioritize the enactment of the measures that protect and enhance the right of all the people to human dignity. (FMG, GMD, LRC, RVC, JKV)