House may increase CHR budget, Malacañang hopes for restoration

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, September 15) — The House of Representatives may push for the increase of the slashed 2018 budget of the Commission on Human Rights (CHR), on one condition.

House Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez said the lawmakers want the CHR to also investigate rights abuses committed by non-state individuals and entities.

"Gawin nila yung trabaho nila. Kaya namin ginawa yan na 1,000 hindi nila ginagawa trabaho nila (They must do their job. The reason we slashed it to P1,000 is because they were not doing their job)," Alvarez said in a press briefing Friday.

House Majority Leader Rudy Fariñas said it is the constitutional body's job to investigate all forms of human rights violations.

"Yung Canadian pinutulan ng ulo, you do not see the CHR doing their investigation. Kailangan mag-reorient sila para nakikita na sinusunod nila mandato sa Constitution (A Canadian was beheaded but you do not see the CHR investigating. They must be reoriented to see if they were following their mandate as written in the Constitution)," Fariñas said.

He was referring to Canadians Robert Hall and John Ridsdel who were beheaded by members of the Abu Sayyaf group in April and June last year after no ransom was paid to spare their lives.

The Lower House approved the measly CHR budget on Tuesday, voting 119-32.

During the first reading, the House approved a P623-million CHR budget, down from the Department of Budget and Management's requested P678-million budget.

Malacañang on Friday said it remains hopeful the CHR budget will be restored, along with that of the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples (NCIP) and Energy Regulatory Commission (ERC).

"We're very hopeful that the budget we submitted to Congress would be approved by Congress…everything inside it," Presidential Communications Office Assistant Secretary Kris Ablan said.

He said the Congress is merely fulfilling its mandate to check and balance decisions of the executive.

"The reduction of the budgets of the three agencies to P1,000 is Congress demanding from these agencies some form of accountability and to justify their budgets," Ablan said.

CHR open to dialogue

In a statement sent to CNN Philippines, CHR Chair Chito Gascon said the agency has conducted fact-finding missions involving non-state actors.

"The most recent investigations our regional fact-finding teams had undertaken were the incidents involving NPA (New People's Army) attacks in Arakan North Cotabato and Negros Island," Gascon said.

He, however, clarified it is primarily the duty of the state to enforce the law and suppress lawless elements. 

He said the CHR is open to having a constructive dialogue with the House Speaker and other members of Congress to clarify CHR's mandate and other concerns.

"CHR welcomes what appears to me to be a partial change-of-heart on his previous adamant position to defund our Agency," he added.

Road to reconciliation

Not all hope is lost for the CHR, since the Senate will still act on the 2018 budget bill once forwarded by the House of Representatives.

Some senators, including Senator Panfilo Lacson, vowed to fight for the restoration of the CHR budget during the bicameral conference. Senate Minority Floor Leader Franklin Drilon, however, warned of a possible deadlock.

The Senate Finance Committee approved on Monday a P678-million budget for the CHR. 

Differences between the House and Senate versions will be reconciled in a bicameral conference committee. The budget becomes final once the reconciled version is signed by President Rodrigo Duterte.

CHR commissioner Roberto Cadiz on Wednesday told CNN Philippines' The Source the congressmen misunderstands the CHR's mandate, which he said 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.

CNN Philippines' Eimor Santos, Joyce Ilas, and Ina Andolong contributed to this report.