P1,000 for the CHR

The funding will still have to undergo bicameral deliberations, and senators have vowed to restore to a reasonable level the 2018 appropriation for the Commission on Human Rights. So the allotment of just P1,000 for the CHR by the House of Representatives can be seen as a mere expression of congressional pique.

This, however, does not make the move any less dismaying. The House leadership said the chamber would approve a normal budget for the CHR only if its chairman, Chito Gascon, would resign. Not surprisingly, Gascon refused.

This is just the latest development  reinforcing perceptions that the House is a mere rubberstamp of Malacañang. The drastic budget cut, from the P1.7 billion sought by the CHR for 2018, came on the heels of President Duterte’s recent declaration that “when the time comes, the CHR (is) better abolished.” The House had given the same appropriation to two other agencies that congressmen want abolished: the Energy Regulatory Commission and the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples.

A budget of P1,000 could indeed shut down the CHR, unless it is allowed to secure funding from outside sources. All is not lost, however, for the commission that has been consistently critical of the conduct of the war on illegal drugs. The Senate has its own version of the proposed General Appropriations Act, which allocates P678 million to the CHR. The amount is lower than this year’s P749.3 million appropriation, but it is still significantly higher than the token P1,000 under the House version.

Senators have warned of a possible deadlock if congressmen insist on the P1,000 funding. Critics have also warned that abolishing the CHR would give the International Criminal Court reason to act on a complaint filed against President Duterte for crimes against humanity in connection with the bloody war on drugs. The ICC can step in only if a state is unable or unwilling to stop the systematic violation of human rights, when legal avenues for addressing rights violations in a country have failed.

What the CHR needs is strengthening rather than abolition. Malacañang and its rubberstamp have sent their message to the CHR. Reason can prevail when the budget proposal undergoes bicameral deliberations.

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