By Dave S. Albarado
All three congressmen never had a hand in the approval of the P1,000 budget for the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) by the House of Representatives.
The Bohol Tribune reached out to the three congressmen to find out their stand on the most sensitive issue of the land following the measly budget given to the controversial constitutional commission.
Two of the three congressmen of the province said the budget hearings are far from over, adding that any discussions about the budget given to any government offices may be a bit premature at this time.
Online fury razed after 119 lawmakers from the Lower House voted to give the CHR only P1,000 for its 2018 budget.
Social media backlash came about as netizens expressed outrage and demanded some of the solons to explain their position to defund the CHR.
The CHR has been one of the agencies that has caught the ire of the Duterte administration.
The constitutional commission has been in the forefront of criticisms against the “war vs. drugs” of the administration.
First district Rep. Rene Relampagos said there is no truth to the fake news circulating he was among those who approved the P1,000 budget given to the CHR.
In a statement given to the media, Relampagos said he did not vote “yes” to the measure giving a budget of P1,000 to the CHR.
“This would be the height of irony for me having been the chairman of the House Committee on Human Rights during the 15th Congress and for having filed bills promoting human rights including the strengthening of the Commission through the proposed CHR Charter. This proposed charter I filed since the 15th Congress,” he explained.
Relampagos said he was not able to cast his vote since he was not at the plenary when the voting happened.
“I was not able to vote,” he said.
He said he can’t stay the whole time as he had to attend pocket meetings and other matters.
“We were advised that budget voting will be at 7:00 pm. CHR voting came earlier and it was fast. Unfortunately, I was not there inside the plenary when it happened,” he explained.
About 143 members of the Lower House were unable to cast their votes.
“I recognize the importance of CHR as a constitutional body. I was among those who moved for the passage of the anti-torture law, anti-enforced disappearance law and other important human rights measures. Again, how can I move for the strengthening of the CHR through my proposed CHR charter and yet give it no budget? That’s ironic,”Relampagos stressed.
He said that since the deliberation of the budget is not over, it would be premature “to discuss some constitutional and legal issues at this time.”
“If at all, this has forced a discourse on human rights and this is good. People are now talking about it,” he said.
For his part, when asked about the vote he registered, Third District Rep. Arthur Yap replied: “I abstained.”
He echoed the sentiments of Relampagos that the discussion on the budget is not yet over.
In a text message sent to the Bohol Tribune, Yap said: “the budget process is not yet completed so any comment on the CHR budget is still premature. There will still be a third reading and bicameral conference on the budget. The period of individual and committee amendments is still on-going.”
Third district Rep. Erico Aristotle Aumentado told the Bohol Tribune in a short text message, “I didn’t vote in favor of P1k budget for CHR.”
The local office of the CHR here remains optimistic that the tide will turn to the agency once the budget deliberations reach the bicameral conference committee.
CHR Bohol officer-in-charge Alfonso Bayocot in a radio report said having a paltry budget will hamper he services and assistance of the agency to the people.
However, the employees of the local office here will stay in their positions despite the looming paltry budget.
The agency has started to explain to the public the mandate of the agency through several channels like social media and also through inforgraphics.
Acting on a motion made by SAGIP representative RodanteMarcoleta, 119 members of the House voted to give the CHR a humiliating budget.
During the interpellations, Marcoleta slammed the CHR for deferring “more to the United Nations special rapporteur,” he questioned further why it did not protect the human rights of President Duterte when he was criticized for the alleged “war on drugs” which has been bloody.
Marcoleta, was quoted by Rappler, that the CHR has not been validly created–but the 1986 Philippine Constitution provides the bases for the existence of the government agency.
He was corrected about his arguments against the creation of the CHR.
The Constitution tasks the CHR to investigate allegations of human rights abused by the state actors such as the police or the military. As such, it acts as a check-and-balance for potential abuses by government.
In a way, this Constitutional provision is a knee-jerk reaction to the experience of the nation during the dark days of Martial Law of the Marcos administration.
Marcoleta, a member of the majority, turned the focus to the April 25 editorial by the New York Times titled “Let the World Condemn Duterte”.
He asked Cebu City first district Rep. Raul del Mar who sponsored the CHR budget if the CHR condemned the editorial.
CHR Commissioner Chito Gaston, through del Mar, said the agency did not condemn the editorial.
Del Mar said many, including some solons, who may not understand the mandate of the CHR, said “Who’s kidding who? P1,000 is practically abolishing the CHR.”
He further said, “I wonder how we are looked at by the global community,” said.
Then the Lower House proceeded to viva voce voting.
House Deputy Speaker Eric Singson said,”the ayes have it.”
The ones who are against the motion said those who said “nays” were louder.
Buhay party-list representative Lito Atienza warned about the repercussions and said” “do not make the mistake of railroading this.”
The solons were asked to express their support of, or opposition to, the motion. Based on the voting, Singson said 119 voted to give the CHR just P1,000, as 31 voted against it.