Drilon warns of deadlock in 2018 budget over CHR allocation

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, September 13) — With the Senate and the House of Representatives having different views on the role of the Commission on Human Rights (CHR), Senate Minority Floor Leader Franklin Drilon warned of a possible deadlock in the 2018 budget.

"The Senate, I would like to think, will not stand for the abolition of the CHR, through giving it a P1,000 budget. If the House will insist on that, then there will be a deadlock for 2018 general appropriations act," Drilon said on Wednesday.

During the House budget deliberations on Tuesday, 119 lawmakers voted to reduce the CHR budget to just P1,000, while 32 were against it. A total of 141 solons abstained. Drilon said the P1,000 allocation effectively abolishes the agency.

The Department of Budget and Management submitted a P678 million budget for 2018.

The deadlock, Drilon said, would result in the 2017 budget being reenacted. The CHR will then get P725 million, the same amount it was allocated for 2017.

"We will take the position that if the House will not agree to restore the budget of the CHR, then so be it, we will have a re-enacted budget," Drilon added.

READ: Congressmen don't understand CHR mandate: Commissioner

The Senate Committee on Finance, headed by Sen. Panfilo Lacson, had already approved the proposed CHR budget in its entirety on Monday.

However, the Senate still has to act on the proposed 2018 budget bill as approved by the House of Representatives. Differences will be reconciled in a conference committee. The reconciled version will be returned to the two chambers for ratification.

The administration plans to have President Rodrigo Duterte sign a new budget law before the next fiscal year begins in January.

"The CHR's budget will be maintained by the committee of Sen. Lacson, who is in-charge of this, and we will support the proposal of Senator Lacson and the restoration of the budget of the CHR," Drilon said.

Following the House decision, several senators, including Lacson, spoke up against the budget allocation.

READ: Congressmen don't understand CHR mandate: Commissioner

Aside from the CHR, the House also gave the Energy Regulatory Commission (ERC) and the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples (NCIP) a P1,000-budget for 2018.

The three agencies are hoping their budget proposals will be reinstated once deliberations reach the bicameral conference.

President Rodrigo Duterte also said CHR chair Chito Gascon "had it coming," saying he had earned the ire of the members of the House of Representatives.

Earlier, House Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez also said he is unconvinced the agency is doing its job.

"Gusto ko malinaw 'to. Hindi naman zero. P1,000. Kasi hindi nila ginagawa 'yung trabaho nila," Alvarez told CNN Philippines' The Source on Monday.

[Translation: I want this to be clear. Not entirely zero, P1,000. Because they're not doing their job.]

Budget railroaded?

As the decision was made through viva voce voting, Buhay Party-list Representative Lito Atienza, one of the 32 congressmen who voted against the allocation, said they were railroaded.

"They even tried preventing us from explaining why we are objecting to the motion to reduce the budget to P1,000," Atienza told CNN Philippines' News Night. "Last night, they were trying to stifle us. I had to raise my voice, I had to appeal to them, trying to say 'you cannot do this' on a very important issue."

He added that 1-SAGIP Party-list Representative Rodante Marcoleta, who introduced the measure to the House, was stating inaccurate facts during the budget deliberations.

"There were certain allegations by Congressman Marcoleta which were very very erroneous, the premises that he pointed out were mostly wrong," Atienza said.

Marcoleta, during his interpellation, accused the agency of being selective in its investigations of human rights violations.

"You are supposed to investigate all human rights violations irrespective of any group, any location whether they are soldiers, policemen, NPA (New People's Army), members of the Maute group," Marcoleta said.

Atienza then said House Majority Floor Leader Rudy Fariñas eventually allowed them to explain their side, but he said the majority of congress was not listening.

Meanwhile, Isabela Representative Rodolfo Albano, who was among those who voted for the 1,000-peso budget, said the reduced allocation was just a statement for the agency.

"Whad we did last night is just to make a statement, a message of concern for the CHR," Albano said.

He added due to Gascon's alleged affiliation with the Liberal Party, the commission's decisions have become questionable.

"Alam mo kasi nagkakakulay itong mga institution na ito, lalo si Chito Gascon, galing sa, sinasabi nila, sa Liberal Party…so any action ng institution na yan, nakukulayan ng pulitika," Albano said.

[Translation: These institutions have been tainted, because Chito Gascon, they say, is from Liberal Party…so any action of the institution is tainted with politics.]

Getting the budget back

CHR Commissioner Gwen Pimentel earlier revealed Alvarez gave a condition that the commission may regain its proposed P678-million budget if CHR chair Gascon steps down.

Gascon, however, said he will not quit.

"To threaten it with the reduction of the budget on the pretext of asking me to resign would lead to essentially be making the institution forever at the mercy of politics," Gascon said.

However, Albano said there may not be a need for Gascon to resign, reiterating that the measure was just a statement.

"Magbigay lang siya ng report na maganda sa Congress, I'm sure ire-restore ng Congress yung budget. Statement lang naman ito, hindi ito ang final say ng mga congressmen," Albano said.

[Translation: He just give a favorable report to the Congress, and I'm sure they'll restore the budget. It's just a statement, this is not the final say of the congressmen.]

He added that Duterte may eventually veto the P1,000 CHR budget should the House and Senate agree to it.

"Kahit pa mag-agree ang House at Senate sa budget ng CHR na bawasan, I'm sure si President Duterte will veto that budget. Sasabihin niya lang na 'Hindi, ibalik niyo rin yung budget ng CHR.'…Of course he is not behind this…alam mo si President Duterte never nakikialam sa affairs ng Congress," Albano said.

[Translation: Even if the House and Senate agrees on the decreased CHR budget, I'm sure President Duterte will veto it. He'll say 'Return the budget to CHR'…Of course he is not behind this…you know President Duterte never meddles with the affairs of Congress.]

CNN Philippines' Correspondent David Santos contributed to this report.