MANILA – The House of Representatives decision to reduce the 2018 budget of the Commission of Human Rights to P1,000 was roundly condemned across various sectors Wednesday, with a ranking church leader calling it the “most stupid and shameful decision the Congress has ever made.”
Echoing a warning by some of the few congressmen who voted against gutting the CHR budget, Sorsogon Bishop Arturo Bastes, chairman of the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines-Episcopal Commission on Mission, said the decision “effectively abolishes a constitutional provision that ensures the protection of the basic rights of human beings.”
The lawmakers “responsible for the effective abolition of this important commission are guilty of violating the Philippine Constitution and can be prosecuted by the third Branch of our Democratic Government – the Judiciary,” stressed Bishop Bastes in comments aired over the Catholic Church-run Radio Veritas.
Vice President Leni Robredo also weighed in on the cutting of the CHR budget, which Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez said would be restored if CHR chair Chito Gascon resigns. Gason said Wednesday he will not resign, as it would shirk a constitutional mandate.
Counting herself among the “many Filipinos dismayed” by the House action, Robredo – in a statement written in Filipino – recalled the CHR was established, “under our Constitution, rooted in the country’s dark past under the Marcos dictatorship, when violations of human rights were widespread. Having a CHR is a vanguard against the return of a regime that will abuse power. It is also the foundation of upholding the dignity and rights of every Filipino.”
The budget cuts has the effect of dismantling the CHR, she said, warning that it “signals a lack of respect for the Constitution and human rights — both bulwarks of democracy.”
The development becomes ominous in the context of widespread violence and killings, she added.
Robredo expressed hope the Senate will not countenance the House action.
In a separate statement, the Liberal Party – whose senators are a minority in the Senate though some party mates in the House are Duterte allies – also condemned the gutting of the CHR budget.
The LP , led by party president Kiko Pangilinan, commended “the 32 [House members] who stood up at the House of Representatives to signify their opposition to giving the Commission on Human Rights only a P1,000 budget” He warned that the CHR budget cut is of a piece with recent other moves that presage a move toward authoritarianism.
The LP statement said: “We agree with the arguments of Buhay Rep. Lito Atienza against the motion of 1-Sagip Rep. Rodante Marcoleta. To quote Rep. Atienza: The CHR ‘should not be abolished. It should be strengthened because of the times. We are now passing through a very narrow path: to lose our democracy or to gain and strengthen it. I say we should all defend our democracy dahil ito po ang ating ipamamana sa ating mga anak…Let it not be said that in the middle of the darkness of the night, everyone slept. This representation is awake and will defend democracy all the way’.”
The 32 are awake, while the 119 who voted for the measly CHR budget may be unaware that their vote could help lead to the end of our democracy, said the LP statement, adding: “Because their “yea” votes means they agree to having more Kians, Carls, and Kulots in the future, defenseless in life and in death, their killers unpunished. Their deaths will be on them too.”
The Freedom from Debt Coalition called the House “Alvarez’s and Duterte’s rubber stamp,” and said the budget cut “is an act of national betrayal and should not be allowed to go unchallenged.”
This shameless decision to provide a P1,000 budget to the CHR for 2018 also violates the Philippine Constitution, the rule of law, democratic principles and human rights, including the Philippines’ commitment to human rights before its citizens and peoples and before the international community, added FDC, which mounted a protest in front of the Batasan Wednesday afternoon.
Giving CHR a mere P1,000 budget signals, FDC said, “the strongest and latest efforts by the lower house to legislate impunity and the eventual ascendancy of fascist rule and state repression in our land.”
Noting the budget for 2018 is from the taxpayers, FDC said: “We will not allow our hard-earned money to perpetuate lawlessness and impunity committed by those entrusted to uphold the law, protect and fulfill human rights and assigned to serve and protect the people. We will not allow the regime’s continued policies and practices that trample our human rights, ride roughshod over the Philippine laws and Constitution, and erode whatever is left of our basic freedoms and civil liberties.
“We will not allow such madness as a P900 million 2018 budget for the brutal and senseless Oplan Tokhang, while taunting the people and their human rights with a P1,000.00 CHR budget!”