Senators vow to ‘fight for’ bigger CHR budget
After over 100 House of Representatives voted for a P1,000-budget for the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) in 2018, the embattled agency got overwhelming support from many of the lawmakers’ counterparts in the Senate.
Most senators protested the lower chamber’s move, with 112 lawmakers voting to slash CHR’s budget from P677 million to a measly P1,000 last Tuesday.
Senator Panfilo “Ping” Lacson, vice chairman of the Finance committee, vowed that the Senate will stand its ground on the much debated budget for the CHR.
“I happen to be the sponsor of the CHR budget in the Senate, along with a few other agencies like the DND (Department of National Defense), ARMM (Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao), etc. I accept the challenge,” Lacson said in a Twitter post late Tuesday.
Lacson also questioned why the House version of the 2018 national budget stayed at P3.767 trillion after it reduced the P677.99 million budget to P1,000.
“It’s interesting to find out how the P677 million was chopped,” he said.
Senate President Pro Tempore Ralph Recto assured that the Senate will surely restore the CHR budget, saying that the agency might need more resources given the rising number of extrajudicial deaths.
“The CHR is a constitutional body mandated by the constitution to protect our human rights. It may even need more resources considering the number of extrajudicial killings,” Recto said in a text message on Wednesday.
Senator Francis “Chiz” Escudero also said he will fight to restore CHR’s budget.
“The CHR is a constitutional imperative and a necessity, however inconvenient it may be for some. I will fight to restore its budget!” Escudero also posted on Twitter.
Minority senator Francis Pangilinan, meanwhile, criticized the House’s move, calling it “kalokohan.”
“Hindi kami papayag sa Senado sa inaprubahan ng House na P1000 budget para sa CHR. Tututulan namin nang maigi ang pag-apruba nito sa Senado kahit pa hindi maipasa ang 2018 budget at ma-re-enact ang 2017 budget (We at the Senate won’t allow the approval of CHR’s P1000-budget. We will oppose its approval in the Senate even if the 2018 budget will not be passed and the 2017 budget reenacted),” Pangilinan said in a statement on Wednesday.
“Kalokohan ito (This is ridiculous),” he said.
Pangilinan added that this was a preview of “dictatorship” if there will be a charter change, which requires both chambers of the Congress to vote jointly.
“Ngayon alam na natin ano ang mangyayari sa bansa natin kapag nag-cha-cha at itulak ang voting jointly na tig-isang boto lang ang mga Senador at Kongresista. Derecho na tayo sa diktadura (Now we will know what will happen to the country if we push for joint voting in Charter change and Senators and representatives have one vote each. We will surely head to a dictatorship),” he said.
Another member of the minority bloc Senator Bam Aquino said the recent spate of killings and police abuses in the drug war would need the CHR to continue doing its mandate.
“With the numerous deaths and reports of police abuses, we need this body to do its duty as mandated by the constitution,” Aquino said.
Senator Win Gatchalian, too, joined his colleagues in saying that the Congress should not reduce the budget of the Commission on Human Rights, as he stressed that the agency is a constitutionally-mandated body.
“This would effectively abolish the CHR, at least for the coming fiscal year, in clear contravention of the constitutional provision mandating the establishment of this independent office,” Gatchalian said in a statement on Wednesday.
“Moreover, the Commission serves as an important check and balance to ensure that government officials exercise their functions with due respect for the constitutional rights of the people. The Senate should make sure the CHR receives the budget it needs to fulfill its constitutionally mandated functions next year,” he said.
Senator Sonny Angara said he was “quite certain” the Senate will give a more generous budget to the CHR.
“Recall that it was the CHR which discovered the hidden cell in a city jail with women and children unaccounted for. That act alone justifies more,” Angara said, referring to the secret jail discovered in a Manila city police station.
Senator Joel Villanueva, for his part, stressed that the CHR has constitutional duty to protect the people from abuses, particularly state agents.
“You may not agree all the time with what CHR is doing since time immemorial but they have constitutional duty to protect our people against abuses,” Villanueva said on Twitter.
Also on Twitter, Senator JV Ejercito expressed support for the CHR, saying it is a “necessity (as) the Constitution mandates it.”
He emphasized that the agency functions as a guardian against abuse of those in authority. /idl
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