October 24, 2017, 1:10 am
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Senators to restore CHR budget

SENATORS yesterday crossed party lines and decided to retain the P678-million proposed budget of the Commission on Human Rights for 2018, which was reduced to P1,000 by the House of Representatives.

Senators said the P677.999-million proposed budget will be restored when the House version of the budget bill reaches the Senate.

Sen. Panfilo Lacson, one of the vice chairmen of the finance committee, said he would even scrutinize the House version of the budget to find out where congressmen put the amount they removed from the CHR budget.

Lacson also said the CHR budget was passed by his sub-committee last Monday, and he is ready to defend the committee report that he would submit to the plenary, and the Senate version at the bicameral conference committee.

The House passed the P1,000-budget Tuesday night, making good its threat to retaliate against the CHR for its criticisms on President Duterte’s war against drugs, and complying with the instruction of Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez to make sure the body receives a  small budget for being “pro-criminal.” A total of 119 congressmen voted in favor of the P1,000 budget while 32 objected.

Duterte said CHR chairman Jose Luis Martin “Chito” Gascon “had it coming” as his actions have earned the ire of some House members.

Duterte, who has repeatedly criticized Gascon for the latter’s statements against the war against illegal drugs, also said he had nothing to do with House decision to slash the CHR budget.

He said the CHR was constitutionally created and should probe whatever it wants, adding he was “not here to destroy institutions.”

“He had it coming. He opens his mouth in a most inappropriate way. He knows nothing,” Duterte said, referring to Gascon.

“The congressmen are really angry. I have nothing against him. Give them a budget for all I care, whatever he likes to investigate.”

He called Gascon “pro-dilaw (pro-yellow),” referring to supporters of Duterte’s immediate predecessor, Benigno Aquino III.

Duterte once threatened to abolish the CHR but later said it was just a joke.

Gascon on Tuesday night called the House decision a “whimsical and capricious display of vindictiveness” and said the CHR is looking forward to defending its budget before the Senate.

Vice President Leni Robredo slammed the House leadership and said giving the CHR a P1,000-budget is tantamount to abolishing the commission and a show of disrespect for the Constitution and for human rights.

She said having a constitutional office like the CHR is essential for the protection of human rights and noted the CHR was created as a response to the human rights abuses during the martial law under Ferdinand Marcos.

Senate minority leader Franklin Drilon said the minority bloc is in full support of Lacson’s position to restore the CHR budget.

He also said a deadlock might result if the Senate and the House would insist on their respective versions. “Then it will be a re-enacted budget for 2018,” he said.

Drilon also said giving the CHR a P1,000-budget is essentially removing the constitutional body’s power to operate, effectively abolishing it “and that can be constitutionally questioned because the CHR is a constitutional body and it is provided for in the Constitution; it has fiscal autonomy.”

He also said that more than ever, the CHR should be given “adequate funds” amid killings and reports of human rights violations.

Senate President Aquilino Pimentel said it is the position of the Senate as a bicameral conferee that the CHR deserves a budget as recommended by the agency and forwarded by Malacañang to Congress. But the President could exercise his line-item veto power on the budget, he said.

Aside from minority senators, among other senators who called for the restoration of CHR budget were Grace Poe, Francis Escudero, JV Ejercito, Juan Edgardo Angara, Richard Gordon, and Juan Miguel Zubiri. – With Jocelyn Montemayor, Angela Lopez de Leon and Reuters
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