Restoration of CHR budget: Result of compromise or backlash?
Several lawmakers have cited the role of the public for speaking out as the House of Representatives restored of the budgets of the Commission on Human Rights, the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples, and the Energy Regulatory Commission.
But, were the lawmakers pressured by the public outcry or was it the CHR that was forced to make concessions?
This early on, Albay 1st Dist. Rep. Edcel Lagman expressed disbelief that CHR Chairman Chito Gascon seemingly conceded the point of lawmakers that his agency should not only focus on checking government abuses but also consider the acts of violent non-state actors as human rights violations too.
Lagman in a statement even claimed it was “blatantly false news” for television networks to report that Gascon committed to investigate the atrocities of non-state actors like rebels and terrorists.
Gascon reportedly told CNN Philippines: “What we said was the mandate of the commission does involve all human rights for all people. But if they expect us to perform the functions that the police perform, that’s something that we are unable to do because we are not the police force.”
“But if they are ready to provide additional resources so we can provide our human rights investigations and monitoring for other cases not involving state authorities, we’d be happy to do that anyway. We’ve already been doing that. We’ve had other investigations involving non-state actors,” he was quoted as saying.
Lagman said he was certain Gascon “neither promised nor undertook to make such investigations which are not within the jurisdiction of the CHR.”
He maintained the CHR was mandated to investigate human rights violations committed by the State and its agents or by private parties tolerated by the State.
Lagman said it was only “a face-saving alibi after the CHR’s budget was restored following terrible backlash against House leaders and the supermajority from civil society, netizens and ordinary citizens.”
His media relations officer told reporters that Lagman’s reading was Gascon went “under pressure and merely wanted to be diplomatic.”
Magdalo Party-list Rep. Gary Alejano, meanwhile, said this episode made it “clear that the budget was used as a political tool by allies of Duterte in order to pressure heads of agencies of government especially the CHR to align and cooperate with the agenda of this administration.”
“This arm twisting tactic destroys the essence of check and balance system in our democracy,” Alejano said. “I continue to believe that CHR must continue to perform its mandate with more vigor in these trying times where threat of dictatorship is slowly rearing its ugly head.”
Ifugao Rep. Teddy Baguilat Jr., for his part, said if the House leadership insists on its interpretation of CHR’s mandate, “we should not only restore the CHR budget but increase it ’cause the scope is now going beyond its primary mandate.”
Meanwhile, Gabriela Women’s Party said the House appropriations committee’s surprise Wednesday night announcement could only be “a response to the huge backlash on the chamber’s move to defund the institution amid wanton killings and rights violations.”
Gabriela noted the timing of the announcement hours before protests were launched in various cities in response to the “tyranny” of the Duterte administration.
“It forms part of the various attempts of the Duterte administration to pour cold water on the massive anti-tyranny protest set today, the 45th year of the martial law declaration of the Marcos regime,” Gabriela said.
But the feminist party-list noted that “restoring the CHR budget will not alter the fascist character of the 2018 national budget.”
It said huge sums continue to allocated to “programs aimed at political repression and destruction of communities,” such as the P900-million budget for the police’s Oplan Double Barrel Reloaded, P500 million for the community-based intelligence network Masa Masid, P56 billion for right-of-way acquisitions which will lead to demolitions, and billions of pesos in confidential intelligence funds.
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