Zero budget may be unconstitutional, CHR says
Is it legal for the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) to receive no budget at all for 2018? That may actually be unconstitutional.
On Friday, the CHR made a series of posts and infographics on Friday on its Facebook account addressing threats by by House Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez to give the body “zero budget” for 2018.
One post pointed out that the CHR was one of the commissions created by the 1987 Constitution. Under Article 13, Section 17, the CHR is an “independent office” and is guaranteed “fiscal autonomy.”
“Every Constitutional Commission…possesses ‘fiscal autonomy’ to ensure that the government will not affect the operations of these institutions as ’safeguards’ of our democracy,” the rights body explained in Filipino, in one of the posts.
“If [zero budget] is given, that is a clear violation of what is stated in the Constitution and a blatant obstruction to carrying out our mandate as the [national human rights institute] of this country,” one of the posts said.
“It is important for the CHR to have fiscal autonomy to protect the independence of this agency,” the rights body added, in an accompanying infographic.
Alvarez earlier made the statements in the wake of President Rodrigo Duterte saying the CHR, which has been a staunch critic of reported human rights violations under the administration, was better off “abolished” – a move which would actually require charter change.
Reports cite Alvarez as remaining bullish on his position, as the Congress deliberations for the CHR’s P649.484-million 2018 budget, as proposed by the Department of Budget and Management (DBM), was once again deferred on Friday. The DBM had proposed a P496-million budget for CHR in 2017.
In an interview with the Inquirer in August, after the first congressional deliberations on the CHR budget and following Alvarez’s statement, CHR spokesperson lawyer Jacqueline de Guia explained that “fiscal autonomy” would mean that appropriations should be always be on the level of appropriations for the previous year or higher.
“It could not go lower,” De Guia said. “And as a matter of principle, it should also be automatically released.”
“The rationale behind this is the nature and function we exercise,” she added. “We look into government actions. We wouldn’t want the Commission on Audit to be influenced, hindered, or intimidated from auditing state funds [because of budget constraints]. In the same way, a Constitutional Commission like the CHR shouldn’t be hampered in terms of its resources.”
Asked what would happen if the “zero budget” plan were pushed, De Guia had said that the CHR might be constrained to “take it to court, question it for being unconstitutional.”
But De Guia had said the CHR remained optimistic that “support will still be there” from the Congress, including Senate, which actually recommended an increase to the CHR’s capital outlay for 2017.
“This year we got our highest budget,” she said. “We are optimistic because Congress last year recognized we need vital support. We are optimistic the support will still be there same as last year.” /atm
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