As Pinoys agonize over youths killed by cops, Congress stalls on budget for Human Rights Commission

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Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez with Senate President Aquilino Pimentel III. (file photo)

MANILA, Philippines – Amidst a bloody war on drugs that has caught innocent citizens, including young and poor Filipinos, in the crossfire, the Commission on Human Rights needs to be strengthened and given a bigger budget, its chairman Jose Luis Martin “Chito” Gascon says. But the rights body has reason to fret: Twice this week alone, plenary deliberations on the CHR’s budget have been deferred. In the background, Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez had earlier threatened to give the Constitutional body a zero budget.

Itong sunud-sunod na namamatay na mga bata na kailangan matugunan ng law enforcement, ma-monitor ng human rights at dagdag siguro na argument kung bakit hindi napapanahon na i-zero ang CHR, bagkus palakihin pa sana ang budget nito para sa gayon mas makayanan namin na sabayan ang mga kaganapan.”

(These successive killings of youth that law enforcement needs to address and human rights need to monitor add to the argument for why it is not timely to give the CHR a zero budget; indeed, government should instead give it a budget increase to allow it to keep pace with developments),” Gascon told reporters in an interview late Thursday.

Sa kasalukuyan, based on our limited resources, hirap kaming sabayan ang pace and scale ng namamatay, masyadong mabilis at marami,” he added. 

(We are having a hard time keeping up with the pace and scale of the killings, which are happening too fast and becoming too many).”

Over the past weeks, a string of deaths involving minors – and implicating policemen – have dominated Philippine news. In mid-August, Caloocan policemen were caught on CCTV escorting 17-year-old Kian Lloyd delos Santos to what ultimately turned out to be his death. Police said Delos Santos shot it out with them. The leaked footage from a barangay camera, eye witnesses, and forensics analyses have since suggested he was deliberately shot while he cowered defenseless. Little more than a week later, another young man, 19-year-old Carl Arnaiz was discovered in a Caloocan morgue after days of having been reported missing in his home town of Cainta, more than 25 kilometers away. Once again, police claimed that he had been killed days earlier, around August 17, after an alleged failed attempt to rob a taxi driver at gunpoint. Forensics analyses again cast doubt on police reports. Arnaiz bore signs of torture, and apparently had been handcuffed before he was shot.

Finally, on September 6, 14-year-old Reynaldo De Guzman – the last person seen with Arnaiz, and who was also reported missing – was also found lifeless, his body floating in a creek in the province of Nueva Ecija, nearly 200 kilometers from his home. He had been stabbed at least 30 times.

Late Thursday, CHR Chairman Gascon said a zero budget would prevent them from responding to the killings and other human rights issues facing the people. He appealed to Alvarez to hear them out. He aired the same appeal to the Senate, which will also deliberate the agency’s budget.

Created under the 1987 Philippine Constitution, the CHR is mandated to investigate human rights violations committed against marginalized and vulnerable sectors of the society.

For 2018, it is seeking a budget of P649.48 million (including retirement and pensions), P100 million lower than its 2017 budget.

The floor deliberation on the CHR’s budget was scheduled on Wednesday, September 6, but was deferred because there were no officials in plenary when the agency was called.

Gascon explained that there were given a holding room in another building, far from the plenary hall, and were not immediately informed that their budget was already up for discussion.

On Thursday, September 7, the CHR budget was again scheduled for deliberation, but it was not called. This was instead rescheduled to September 12, the last day of budget deliberations.

During the committee briefing on its budget in August, Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez said he would give the CHR a zero budget if the decision were up to him. He chided the body for raising a howl on alleged extrajudicial killings linked to the Duterte administration’s war on drugs while keeping mum on civilians victimized by the criminals.

Gascon said that on Thursday, CHR commissioner Gwen Pimentel-Gana, sister of Senate President Aquilino Pimentel III, met with Alvarez to explain the agency’s side but the Speaker remained firm on his zero budget position.

Earlier, the House gave the Energy Regulatory Commission, whose officials are hounded by accusations of corruption, a P1,000 appropriation.