THE House of Representatives made the right decision in giving the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) a P1,000 budget for 2018 because its chairman, Jose Luis Manuel Gascon, has politicized the agency, anti-crime advocates claimed on Thursday.
“As far as the VACC (Volunteers Against Crime and Corruption) is concerned the move of the House of Representatives was just right because we never received any help from the CHR,” said Dante Jimenez, founding chairman of the VACC.
Jimenez said his organization has been assisting victims of heinous crimes for at least three decades without the CHR’s help.
The CHR, however, has repeatedly maintained that its mandate is to check the abuses of, and recommend charges against, government entities or personnel committing human rights violations. Crimes, on the other hand, are the purview of law enforcement agencies such as the police.
A total of 119 lawmakers supported the motion of Sagip Party-list Rep. Rodante Marcoleta to give the CHR a P1,000 budget on Tuesday. The commission had proposed a budget of P678 million for 2018.
Marcoleta justified his move by saying the commission was not serious in its job, citing in particular its failure to bring justice to the 44 Special Action Force commandos killed in a botched anti-terror operation in Mamasapano, Maguindanao in 2015.
Jimenez made it clear he was not for the abolition of the CHR, only for a congressional review of the commission’s mandate.
“We are still for the continuous existence of CHR but there is a need to review its mandate before giving them a budget,” the VACC head added.
He noted that the move of the House to gut the CHR budget would only affect funds for maintenance and other operating expenses (MOOE) and the office of CHR Chairman Gascon, not the salaries of its personnel.
“The CHR is not Gascon. It is an institution provided by the Constitution. Unfortunately, you have a chairman who have been politicizing the commission,” said Jimenez.
The CHR under Gascon has been anti-military, anti-police and anti-victims of heinous crimes, he claimed.
It would be better if Gascon left his post, Jimenez said.
Senators on Wednesday vowed to restore the P678 million proposed budget of the commission, which was approved at the committee level on Monday.
On Thursday, House Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez said he would not let the Senate have its way, pointing out that under the Constitution, the national budget originates from the House.
He admitted however that negotiations could take place in the bicameral conference committee where delegates from the House and the Senate reconcile differences in their respective versions of the budget bill.
“I can talk with the Senate [during the bicameral conference committee meeting]. But still, it does not mean that whatever they want, we will just follow. We will see at the bicam,” he said I a radio interview.
Defense chief urges House to reconsider
Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana on Thursday urged Congress to reconsider its decision to give the CHR a P1,000 budget for 2018, citing the constitutional body’s “healthy relationship” with the military.
In a chance interview after the Defense department’s 2018 budget hearing at the Senate, Lorenzana said the government should throw its support behind the CHR because it is an agency formed by the 1987 Constitution.
“I hope they will reconsider to give it [enough budget]unless they plan to abolish it,” he told reporters.
He recalled that during his time as an Army commander, he invited CHR officials to lecture on human rights before soldiers.
“We have human rights officers in our units already, we have human rights officers in every unit of the AFP (Armed Forces of the Philippines) down to the company, battalion, so [as of now], they are the ones lecturing our soldiers,” Lorenzana explained.
“If you will look into the military’s record for the past couple of years, we have very few cases of human rights violations,” he added.
Espenido opposes cut
The CHR has also found an ally in Ozamiz City police chief Jovie Espenido, who was part of the police teams that killed Albuera Mayor Rolando Espinosa last year and Ozamiz Mayor Reynaldo Parojinog Sr. in July.
“Checks and balances can’t be achieved in the absence of the Commission on Human Rights,” Espenido said in a meeting with the Liga ng mga Barangay Mindanao Chapter.
“The CHR is there to monitor. They make sure that the police don’t abuse their power,” Espenido added.
However, Espenido said CHR should not include President Rodrigo Duterte in its investigations, because “the latter is not directly involved.”
Fund drive for CHR
Amid public outrage over the House vote, a group of human rights lawyers called for a public fund drive to support the operations of the CHR.
In a statement released by its president, Hilda Clave, the group Artikulo 3 also criticized Speaker Alvarez and the 119 congressmen who voted to allocate a measly P1,000 for the CHR.
“Speaker Alvarez is taking the country down the road of tyranny, where the Constitution is treated as a mere scrap of paper, independent institutions are shackled, and the people’s right to live in dignity are sacrificed in the name of the ongoing drug war which has resulted to several extra judicial killings,” the group said.
The human rights lawyers argued that the CHR is a constitutional body and the actions of the House violate the Constitution.
“We, therefore, appeal to the Filipino people who value human rights and democracy to contribute to a fund to support the operations of the CHR, which is a government agency created and provided under Article 13, Section 17 of the Philippine Constitution,” Artikulo 3 said.
The group cited Section 1 of Article 13 mandating Congress “to give highest priority to the enactment that protect and enhance the rights of the people to human dignity, reduce social, economic and political iniquities, and remove cultural iniquities by equitably diffusing wealth and political power for the common good.”
with RALPH VILLANUEVA, DEMPSEY REYES AND RJ CARBONELL