CHR WON’T BACK DOWN
Lawyers, militants criticized CHR’s P1,000 budget for 2018
An annual budget of P1,000 will not deter the spirit of those working in the Commission on Human Rights (CHR).
Instead, it will fuel their passion to perform their mandate and protect the public from abusive officials, said CHR-7 chief investigator Leo Villarino on Wednesday.
“The most effective kind of protest that we will do is to stay in office and continue to do our mandate,” he told Cebu Daily News.
“We will work hard, be more resolute in our work and strengthen ourselves in these trying times. It’s business as usual so to speak,” he added.
Villarino said they are hoping that the Senate will fight for a bigger budget for CHR.
Voting 119–32, the House of Representatives on Tuesday approved a budget of only P1,000 for the CHR for next year.
The chamber supported the move to cut the CHR’s budget from P649.48 million proposed by the Department of Budget and Management.
For the past months, 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.
Of Cebu’s 10 congressional district representatives, three voted against giving the CHR’s P1,000 budget.
Militant groups and the Integrated Bar of the Philippines’ (IBP) Cebu City Chapter denounced the move of the House of Representatives and highlighted the vital role of the CHR in the country.
Arvin Odron, CHR-7 director, said they are hoping the House of Representatives will reconsider and grant the commission the budget it needs to operate.
“We hope Congress will agree to a reasonable and acceptable budgetary allocation necessary for the operations, and the payment of personal services (salary) for our personnel next year,” he told Cebu Daily News in a text message.
Odron begged off from issuing further statements, saying it was premature to talk about it while the Senate had yet to tackle the issue.
“As they say, let’s cross the bridge when we get there,” he said.
Villarino, on his part, said they were not surprised with how the House of Representatives decided on CHR’s budget for next year.
“There were talks to cut our budget, and these came true at the House yesterday (Tuesday),” he said.
Villarino explained that the budget is necessary since it is where the salaries of CHR employees and other operational expenses are taken.
At present, CHR-7 has 23 personnel. Two of them are based in Negros Occidental, two in Bohol and 19 in their regional office in Cebu City.
If the CHR’s budget would be reduced to P1,000 next year, Villarino said CHR employees would not be paid.
“Imagine working in an office or an agency, and you don’t receive a salary. That is tantamount to constructive dismissal when we, civil servants, are supposed to have security of tenure,” Villarino said.
If Congress will not give them enough budget, Villarino said they will bring up the matter to the Supreme Court.
“If nothing happens to our plea, then we need to resort to legal remedies. We, nonetheless, keep hoping that the bicameral conference will have some sense of sobriety and reason to thresh this out,” he said.
Since May 2016, shortly after President Duterte won in the elections, the CHR-7 has been investigating at least 59 cases of alleged extrajudicial killings.
Of the number, six were elevated to the Office of the Ombudsman — all involving policemen and operatives of the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency.
The CHR-7 has been following the drug killings in Central Visayas through news reports which they use as basis to step in and investigate.
While most cases stemmed from motu propio investigations, Villarino said they accepted walk-in complainants.
Villarino clarified that the CHR is not an enemy of the government.
“CHR is not anti-government. It is anti-government abuse. We are working in one government. We want to have a government that is fair and respects human rights,” he said.
“The CHR was created to protect the citizenry from government abuses, so why is it hard for them to give enough budget to an agency that makes sure its people are free from any kind of abuse?” Villarino said.
In a statement, the IBP Cebu City Chapter condemned “in strongest possible terms” the decision of the House of Representatives to reduce the budget of the CHR to P1,000.
“Enshrined in our fundamental law is our state’s policy to ‘value the dignity of every human person’ and ‘guarantee full respect for human rights.’ To this end, the CHR was conceived,” the lawyers’ group said.
The IBP Cebu City Chapter said what the House did to the CHR was clearly a vindictive act to cripple the operations of the commission.
“Defunding the CHR will not only cripple its operation and render it powerless to help those that it is mandated to protect, but it also serves to further peddle the misconception that the CHR is useless for failing to investigate crimes committed by private groups and individuals,” it said.
The IBP said it is the responsibility of Congress to give highest priority to the enactment of measures that protect and enhance the rights of all people to human dignity.
“Going after the CHR is anathema to that mandate. No government office or agency should be treated in this manner for doing its job. It sends a wrong message to victims of human rights abuses, further propagates a culture of impunity in our society, and paints the picture that we are governed not by the rule of law, but of men,” the lawyers said.
The IBP urged other lawyers to do their part in educating the people on the role and function of CHR and how important it is in a democratic country.
Anakbayan Cebu shared the same sentiments.
In a separate statement, the militant group said giving the CHR a budget of just P1,000 is a “clear picture of human rights violation.”
“It shows that human rights violations made by this administration is no longer confined within the streets and slums in the countryside. The violation has been raised to the level of parliamentary wherein the policy of devaluating human rights has been slowly divulged as a complete picture.”
Anakbayan Cebu called on the public to be vigilant on any indication of oppression and circumvention to the basic individual rights by the government.
“We are calling on the Senate to maintain its independence by correcting embarrassment made by the Lower House and finally uphold the constitutional mandate to protect the very seeds of the constitution, the Human Rights and Democracy,” it added. /with reports from Nestle L. Semilla and Inquirer
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