Congressmen don't understand CHR mandate: Commissioner

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, September 13) — Lawmakers who voted for a one thousand-peso budget for the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) misunderstand the rights' body's mandate, a commissioner said Wednesday.

Speaking to CNN Philippines' The Source, CHR commissioner Roberto Cadiz reiterated their mandate is to go after those who suffer abuse in the hands of government.

"It is not our mandate to go after common criminals… it is the duty of the Philippine National Police, the executive agencies under the Office of the President, to go after them, to investigate them, to file charges and put them behind the bars of justice," Cadiz said.

"When state agents such as policemen or officers of the government commit these atrocities, that's when the CHR comes in," he added.

House Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez and Representative Rodante Marcoleta do "not understand the mandate of the commission," he said.

It was Marcoleta who moved for the P1,000 budget, which was then supported by majority of the house on Tuesday. The 1-SAGIP Party-list representative hit the CHR for being "selective" about whose human rights to protect, claiming they should also condemn abuses by criminals and terrorist groups.

"It's obvious that with due respect to the speaker, he does not understand the mandate of the commission," said Cadiz.

"Even listening yesterday to the interpellations of House Representative Marcoleta...it was very obvious that they do not understand what the CHR mandate is all about," he said.

Alvarez also told The Source on Monday that the commission should not be a watchdog for the government alone. Both solons cited the 1987 Constitution as the basis of their claims.

Related: CHR gets P1,000 budget 'as far as House is concerned' - House Speaker

The 1987 Constitution, which created the CHR, provides that among the CHR's functions is to "investigate… all forms of human rights violations involving civil and political rights" and "monitor the Philippine Government's compliance with international treaty obligations on human rights."

In a Facebook post on Seotember 8, the CHR also noted it was also a National Human Rights Institution under the Paris Principles, which were adopted in a the United Nations General Assembly resolution in 1993. Under international law, CHR is recognized as a "watchdog against human rights abuses perpetrated by the government or agents thereof."

Cadiz also slammed the budget cut as unfair, pointing out that P900 million was allotted to the police operations in the war on drugs alone.                                               

"We are a very small agency. In fact, the budget of the PNP just for the anti-drug campaign is more than the whole budget of the CHR for the whole year. And now they're expecting us to go after all the criminals," he added.

The lower house voted 119-32 to grant CHR a budget of P1,000 on Monday, a drastic cut from the P623 million it was originally allotted by in the draft.

Related: House gives CHR P1,000 budget for 2018

The Energy Regulatory Commission and National Commission on Indigenous Peoples also received only P1,000 from the House.

Critics of President Rodrigo Duterte's administration said the move is a crackdown on checks and balances in government. His bloody war on drugs has seen over 3,000 dead in police operations according to official figures. However, some human rights groups list over 13,000 killings-including those in vigilante-like operations.

Political pressure

Cadiz also said the attack was "political pressure against the chairman," which "can be seen as an attack on the integrity and the independence of the commission itself." The CHR chairman is Chito Gascon, who also was one of the members of the commission that drafted the 1987 Constitution.

The commissioner also scoffed at statements that the CHR would get a budget increase if Gascon resigned.

"Unang una, kinu-question nila yung mandate… Pag pinalitan yung chairman, nag-iba ba yung mandato ng CHR? Bakit parang yung issue ng mandato nawala pag napalitan ang chairman?"

[Translation: First of all, they're questioning the mandate… If the chairman is changed, does the mandate change too? How come the issue of mandate disappears if the chairman if gone?]

The CHR has launched investigations into the war on drugs, and thrown its support behind rights watchdogs Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch. Gascon was appointed to the CHR in 2015 by former President Benigno Aquino III.

Senators slam P1,000 budget

Senators also spoke up against the budget allocation. The Senate Finance Committee approved on Monday the P678 million-budget proposal for CHR.

Senator Panfilo Lacson, who sponsored the measure, tweeted that he wanted to scrutinize how the remaining budget was chopped by the lower house.

 

Finance Committee member Sen. Chiz Escudero also vowed to help restore the CHR budget.

 

The budget has yet to hurdle the bicameral conference committee, which will have representatives from both houses.

When asked what the CHR would do if such a stringent budget pushed through, Cadiz said such a measure would be against the law.

"That will be an unconstitutional move on the part of Congress because that is equivalent to abolishing the commission which is a constitutional body," he said.

"Then we will have to go to the Supreme Court."

Duterte threatened in late July to abolish the CHR, but later waved off his statement as a joke.