Some solons deny being among 119 who voted to cut CHR budget
Some lawmakers have come out in the open to deny being among the 119 lawmakers who voted to defund the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) with a P1,000 budget that would render the commission inutile in 2018.
This developed after a social media backlash when netizens expressed outrage and demanded that their representatives explain why they voted to defund the agency, which has long been critical of the administration’s war on drugs.
Netizens cried foul when lawmakers were seen flashing the clenched fist pose of President Rodrigo Duterte in a photo, right after they voted to approve on second reading the proposed 2018 budget, which included the defunded CHR appropriation.
Cibac Rep. Sherwin Tugna took to Twitter to explain that he did not cast his vote when the motion for voting was made.
“Just to clarify, CIBAC Party-List and I did not vote in favor of the proposal to allocate P 1,000 budget for the CHR,” Tugna said in a tweet.
Just to clarify, CIBAC Party-List and I did not vote in favor of the proposal to allocate P 1,000 budget for the CHR.
— Rep. Sherwin Tugna (@SherwinTugna) September 13, 2017
He said he would have voted no to the paltry budget given to CHR, which he touted as a constitutionally mandated body intended to check abuses in government.
“Voting was pushed to almost the last item on the agenda. I wasn’t able to register my vote together with other congs who weren’t inside the plenary,” Tugna said.
“Had I been there, I would have registered my NO vote against the motion to give P1,000 budget to CHR for 2018. Days before the voting at the plenary, I already made a public statement that CHR should be given a budget,” Tugna added. “The CHR is a constitutionally created agency of the government. It needs funds to check and balance the abuses of those in power.”
In a statement from her office, Batanes Rep. Henedina Abad denied being part of the 119 lawmakers.
Abad belied reports saying she was among the 119, adding that she was not present at the time of the voting.
“We wish to correct reports that erroneously identify Rep. Henedina ‘Dina’ Razon-Abad as one of the lawmakers who voted to slash the Commission on Human Rights’ budget to P1,000 for FY 2018. Rep. Razon-Abad was indisposed when the session at the Lower House took place, and was therefore unable to vote. Please be guided accordingly,” Abad’s statement read.
She is the wife of former Budget Secretary Florencio “Butch” Abad.
Through her son, actor Luis Manzano, Batangas Rep. Vilma Santos-Recto also denied agreeing to fund the CHR with a measly budget, adding that the commissioner needed to be aptly funded precisely because of the spate of extrajudicial killings.
“Am against cutting the budget of the CHR. They have a duty to perform as mandated by the constitution. With so much crimes/EJK – they need more resources to these investigations. Ito ang isang ahensya na tumutulong sa karapatang pang tao,” Manzano quoted his mother as saying.
Concerned netizens even tagged their representatives to ask if they voted to defund the rights commission.
In a tagged post, Marikina Rep. Romero Quimbo, a deputy speaker and the Liberal Party’s highest official in Congress, denied voting for the defunded budget of the CHR.
In a separate message to Inquirer, Quimbo said he was not at the plenary when the vote was called and that he would have voted to approve the proposed budget of the CHR, not to gut it to a P1,000.
“I am strongly opposed to the reduction of the CHR budget,” Quimbo said. “It’s tantamount to an abolition of a constitutional office which congress has no power to do. Only the people can abolish a constitutional office because such an abolition entails changing the constitution.”
He added that the budge would still have a long way to go, so there was still hope that the CHR budget would be restored in the bicameral conference, where both chambers of Congress would meet to consolidate their versions of the budget.
“The CHR, like the Ombudsman, the Commission on Elections, Commission on Audit, and the Civil Service Commission are constitutionally shrouded with a veil of protection against any attacks from congress, the executive and the judiciary. The reason for the protection is to ensure its independence,” he said.
Quimbo said defunding the CHR “is a step backward for our democracy.”
Bataan Rep. Geraldine Roman belied reports that she voted to defund the CHR, noting that she was in her district at the time.
“Due to incorrect information being spread on social media, I feel that it is important to tell the truth about my supposed support for the P1,000-funding of the CHR. To put all speculations to rest, let me make it clear that I was not at the House of Representatives last September 12 to cast my vote. Not being there, it was impossible for me to have cast my vote. Had I been present, I would have upheld the importance of such a crucial government agency like the CHR,” Roman said.
Muntinlupa Rep. Ruffy Biazon also denied being part of the move. He said, “While I was present for the most part of the budget deliberation last Sept. 12, I left the House before the CHR budget was taken up. If I had been in plenary at the time of the vote, I would have voted NO.”
Former Speaker Feliciano Belmonte said he was also not present at the plenary during the voting.
“I was in a meeting outside and was not able to vote,” he said in a text message.
Eastern Samar Rep. Ben Evardone also took exception to reports he was among the 119. According to him, “I voted against it. I was sitting beside (Magdalo Rep.) Gary Alejano during the voting. You can ask him about my vote.”
Meanwhile, Ifugao Rep. Teddy Baguilat apologized for not being at the plenary to take up the cudgels for the CHR budget and cast his “NO” vote.
“Just to be clear friends, I apologize as I was not in the session hall when the vote happened. Napaka bilis ng mga nangyari at hindi ko nabantayan. I would have voted against the budget cut as this was also consistent with the Liberal Party statement supporting the CHR budget,” said Baguilat, vice president for internal affairs of the Liberal Party.
One lawmaker admitted he was among the 119 lawmakers who stood up against the CHR.
In a text message to Inquirer reporter Julie Alipala, Zamboanga City Rep. Celso Lobregat reasoned the CHR’s “biased” investigations into errant police officers, while had been silent on human rights violations committed by terrorists and rebels.
Lobregat cited CHR’s alleged silence on the Marawi city siege and the botched Mamasapano operation.
“If you recall during the budget deliberations for the extension of martial law in Mindanao, I rose on the floor to highlight CHR’s bias towards alleged violations of soldiers and policemen,” Lobregat said. “What about the human rights violations committed by terrorists and rebels? Mamasapano and the Marawi siege are clear examples.”
Lobregat echoed the position of 1-Sagip Rep. Rodante Marcoleta, who was the one who moved for a P1,000 budget to the CHR for its failure to look into human rights violations committed by terrorists.
Albay Rep. Edcel Lagman earlier differentiated human rights violations committed by state agents and common crimes committed by terrorists and criminals. He said the CHR has jurisdiction over rights violations perpetrated by the state.
According to the House staff and based on the live CCTV feed, among the 32 lawmakers who voted against funding the CHR with P1,000 are:
- Gabriela Rep. Emmi de Jesus
- Quezon City Rep. Jorge Banal
- Quezon City Jose Christopher Belmonte
- Buhay Rep. Lito Atienza
- Bayan Muna Rep. Carlos Zarate
- Kabataan Rep. Sarah Elago
- Magdalo Rep. Gary Alejano
- Anakpawis Rep. Ariel Casilao
- Gabriela Rep. Arlene Brosas
- Act Teachers Rep. France Castro
- Act Teachers Rep. Antonio Tinio
- Cebu City Rep. Raul del Mar
- Albay Rep. Edcel Lagman
- Northern Samar Rep. Raul Daza
- Negros Oriental Rep. Jocelyn Limkaichong
- Maguindanao Rep. Bai Sandra Sema
- Dinagat Islands Rep. Kaka Bag-ao
- Agusan Del Norte Rep. Lawrence Fortun
- Akbayan Rep. Tom Villarin
- Camarines Sur Rep. Gabriel Bordado Jr.
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