MANILA – Senate President Koko Pimentel has assured the Commission on Human Rights that it has “nothing to worry about” despite the House of Representatives endorsing on Tuesday a P1,000 budget for it, as the Senate will ensure that the CHR has “around P600 million” for next year.
In an interview on Wednesday, the transcript of which was published by the Senate website, Pimentel nevertheless acknowledged that there could be a deadlock when it comes to the bicameral conference committee, where the House and Senate versions of the General Appropriations Bill will be put together and items where they have differing positions are deliberated on and reconciled.
Asked what would happen if President Rodrigo Duterte vetoed the CHR’s budget, Pimentel said it was possible: “Sa Constitution kasi merong line item veto power ang Presidente sa budget. Sa ibang law, it’s all or nothing (In the Constitution, the President has a line item veto power when it comes to the budget. In other laws, it’s all or nothing).”
Asked if this meant Duterte could have the last say, Pimentel replied, “That is under the Constitution.”
Pressed further as to whether Congress could still override the veto, he said, “Oo. May override naman. ‘Yung veto messageniya, then two-thirds vote per house (Yes, we can override. There will be his veto message, then two-thirds vote per house).”
Their last resort was to go to the Supreme Court, “if it is a constitutionality issue.”
Asked if the public could donate so that the CHR would have a budget for 2018, the Senate President said they could.
“We should start actually involving the people in governance, in running the government, in financing good projects of the government. Basta lahat receipted, lahat documented (As long as everything is receipted, everything documented,” Pimentel stressed.
On Monday, the Senate Committee on Finance approved the CHR’s proposed P678 million budget for 2018.
The House vote drew flak from various sectors, notably the Church and the Freedom from Debt Coalition. Vice President Leni Robredo also said the House vote was tantamount to undercutting the intent of the 1987 Constitution, to provide Filipinos a vanguard against abuse.
Other senators issued statements on Wednesday regarding the CHR’s budget as endorsed by the Lower House. Here are some snippets.
Senator Chiz Escudero:
“The CHR is a constitutional imperative and a necessity, however inconvenient it may be for some. I will fight to restore its budget.”
He added that since 2007, he had been filing a bill that would strengthen the CHR by giving it “prosecutorial powers over delineated forms of human rights violations,” thus aiding the commission “in ensuring effective and speedy resolution of all human rights cases filed with the CHR.”
Senator Bam Aquino:
“With the numerous deaths and reports of police abuses, we need agencies like the CHR now more than ever.”
Senator Leila De Lima:
“Hindi isanlibong piso ang halaga ng karapatang pantao ni Kian delos Santos, Carl Arnaiz, at Reynaldo de Guzman. Hindi isanlibong piso ang halaga ng karapatang pantao ng isandaang milyong Pilipino (The human rights of Kian delos Santos, Carl Arnaiz, and Reynaldo de Guzman are not worth P1,000. The human rights of 100 million Filipinos are not worth P1,000).
I believe that my colleagues in the Senate will not tolerate this utter madness. For once, let us stand united against this insanity.”
Senator Franklin Drilon:
“By giving CHR P1,000 budget, in effect you are abolishing the CHR by removing any power to operate the agency…
If the action of the House is not corrected, there is a very dangerous precedent, because it means that other constitutional bodies such as the Supreme Court, the Commission on Audit, the Commission on Election can now be abolished by giving them a P1,000 budget.”
Senator JV Ejercito:
“CHR is a necessity and the Constitution mandates it. It functions as a guardian against abuse of those in authority.
In the Senate, we will not make the CHR useless by denying it the money it needs in order to discharge its duty of protecting, preserving, and promoting human rights.”
Senator Richard Gordon:
“It is not easy for the CHR at this time because most of the appointees thereat are perceived, rightly or wrongly, to be members or former members of a political party. I support the CHR and pray that all of us will support it, not only for form but because it is always needed. There are always things that they can remind the government of, for any possible abuse.”
Senator Risa Hontiveros:
“May pera sa fake news pero wala sa karapatang pantao (How can there be a budget for fake news, but none for human rights)?”
She noted that the Presidential Communications Operations Office had committed “numerous errors in basic reporting,” but had nevertheless been given P1.35 billion.
Senator Kiko Pangilinan:
“Kalokohan ito (This is madness).
Ngayon alam na natin ano ang mangyayari sa bansa natin kapag nag-cha-cha at itulak ang voting jointly na tig-isang boto lang ang mga Senador at Kongresista. Derecho na tayo sa diktadura (Now we know what will happen to our country when charter change comes and they push for voting jointly, where Senators and Congressmen will have one vote each. We’ll go straight to a dictatorship).”
Senator Migz Zubiri:
“So proud of my Kuya!”
He said he supported the decision of his brother, Bukidnon 3rd District Representative Manuel Zubiri, to vote against the P1,000 budget in the Lower House.
The Senator promised to restore the CHR budget, saying, “Human rights are basic rights of all people regardless of creed, color or stature in life.”