House gives CHR P1,000 budget, slashes drug rehab funds by 75%
The House of Representatives, voting 119-32, has approved a budget of only P1,000 for the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) for next year.
The chamber supported the move to gut the budget of the CHR, which originally faced only a 10-percent cut to its budget, or P649.48 million, proposed by the Department of Budget and Management.
For the past month, Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez has been threatening to scuttle the CHR’s budget and render it ineffective for criticizing the thousands of killings and human rights abuses in President Rodrigo Duterte’s war on drugs.
CHR Chair Jose Luis Martin Gascon said the commission was saddened by the “whimsical and capricious display of vindictiveness” in the House.
“We had hoped that both the Speaker and the House majority would have been persuaded by reason and necessity to allocate an adequate budget to [the] CHR in order for us to effectively perform our constitutional mandate as an independent office to protect human rights,” Gascon said in a test message to the Inquirer.
He, however, added that the commission was heartened by the “courage and commitment” of representatives who he said “stood their ground to defy the tyranny of numbers shamelessly exhibited” by the House majority.
“We will pursue our cause in the course of the ongoing budget process as the budget goes to the Senate,” he said.
“We will also explore all available remedies,” he added.
After the plenary deferred debates on the CHR budget twice, Rep. Rodante Marcoleta moved for the reduction of the CHR’s budget on Tuesday afternoon.
No enabling law
Marcoleta claimed that the CHR was invalid to begin with because it did not have an enabling law and its creation only took effect by way of then President Corazon Aquino’s Executive Order No. 163 when she headed the post-Marcos revolutionary government in 1987.
“The Constitution does not say just because it mentions CHR, it is already created,” Marcoleta explained as he raised the motion. “How can we appropriate a budget to an agency [that] has not been validly created?”
The House also approved a budget of P1,000 for the Energy Regulatory Commission because of corruption in the agency, as well as for the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples because of its perceived failure to protect the right of indigenous peoples to their ancestral lands and against military attack.
Big cut in drug rehab budget
The Duterte administration also plans a 75-percent cut in spending next year on drug rehabilitation centers.
In a statement, Sen. Ralph Recto said on Tuesday that the administration must explain how it would get by in drug rehabilitation with the P2.3 billion cut in the 2018 budget
of the Deparment of Health (DOH).
Under the proposed P164.8-billion budget of the DOH, the budget for its rehabilitation centers was reduced to P759.6 million, down from this year’s P3.08 billion, according to Recto.
“The word from the DOH is that private donations will make up for the difference. If that is the case, the DOH should submit a listing of where the replacement funds would come from because that is too big a vacuum to fill,” Recto said.
He said the “unofficial” explanation was that private donors would build mega rehabilitation centers. But he asked whether there were funds for the operation of those centers as well as for the training of staff there.
Bayan Muna Rep. Isagani Zarate also questioned the reduced spending for rehabilitation centers.
“Does this mean the number of cases needing rehabilitation and treatment went down?” Zarate asked.
Masbate Rep. Scott Davies Lanete, the budget sponsor, said the DOH requested less funding for the program because 11 donors had pledged to build rehabilitation centers.
“It was the DOH who said, ‘Use the allocation for better use and not allocate to drug rehabilitation as there as a lot of donors who pledged support and their commitment to these centers,’” Lanete said.
Lanete said only 1 percent of a given population of drug addicts required in-house treatment in rehabilitation centers.
This translates to 40,000, going by the Dangerous Drugs Board’s 4-million figure, he said.
Most addicts only need intervention by way of community rehabilitation programs, he said. —WITH REPORTS FROM JHESSET O. ENANO AND CHRISTINE O. AVENDAÑO