SENATOR Panfilo Lacson on Wednesday said he will take the challenge to fight for the budget of the Commission on Human Rights' (CHR) in the Senate after the House of Representatives voted to reduce the rights body's 2018 budget from P678 million to P1,000.
Aside from Lacson, senators who opposed the slashing of the CHR budget are Francis Escudero, Panfilo Lacson, Juan Edgardo "Sonny" Angara, Joseph Victor Ejercito, Paolo Benigno "Bam" Aquino, Ralph Recto, Richard Gordon, Sherwin Gatchalian and Francis Pangilinan.
The CHR has drawn flak from allies of the Duterte administration in the House after it was allegedly defending the rights only of criminals while being mum on the deaths of innocent people.
Lacson, who sponsored the CHR's budget in the Senate, said the rights body is the poor people's last defense against oppression and abuse.
Those who belong to the upper bracket of society, Lacson said, seldom seek the help of CHR since they have resources to defend themselves. But the poor and the helpless need the CHR to defend them.
Lacson, a former chief of the Philippine National Police, said while some do not welcome the role of the CHR, "it is still a must that we allow them to do their work and respect them as a body. That is the very essence of democracy."
Lacson also questioned why, after slashing the CHR's proposed funding, the House version of 2018 budget stays at P3.767 trillion.
He said it was interesting to know how the House appropriated the P677.999 million allotted to the CHR.
Should the Senate and the House opposed each other, Lacson said, there is no other option but to reconcile through the bicameral conference committee.
"I happen to be the sponsor of the CHR budget in the Senate, along with a few other agencies like the DND (Department of National Defense), the Armm (Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao), etc. I accept the challenge on this one," Lacson said.
A member of the majority in the Senate, Ejercito, took to Twitter to express his support for the CHR's budget.
Ejercito said supporting CHR is important since the body serves as the guardian against abuse of those in power and those with authority.
Escudero, for his part, said he would stand his ground on this matter.
"The CHR is a constitutional imperative and a necessity, however inconvenient it may be for some… I will fight to restore its budget," Escudero said.
Pangilinan said that despite the meager amount the CHR is getting, "these people are doing their constitutional duty and fighting for the rights of the people."
To prove that the body is doing its function, Angara cited the discovery of a secret jail inside station 1 of the Manila Police District last April. The cell, where 12 people were locked up, was allegedly used as holding area for detainees used by police as milking cows.
Recto whose wife, Batangas Representative Vilma Santos-Recto, also opposed the P1,000 budget for the CHR in the House said it clearly stated in the Constitution that CHR is part of our existing law.
"Considering the numerous case of extrajudicial killing, the CHR role is very vital," Recto said.
Aquino said that with the numerous deaths and reports of police abuses, "we need this body to do its duty as mandated by the Constitution."
"We will fight to restore if not augment, the budget for the Commission on Human Rights," Aquino said.
The Senate finance committee recently approved the P678 million budget for the CHR, which include a P28.565 million budget for Human Rights Violation Victim’s Memorial Commission.
Aside from the CHR, the House also approved a measly P1,000 budget for the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples (NCIP) and the Energy Regulatory Commission (ERC) for 2018 during its plenary debates.
Presidential Spokesperson Ernesto Abella on Wednesday said Malacañang would not meddle in the move of the House on the three agencies.
"The executive proposes the budget but it is Congress that approves the appropriation, which includes the amount to be allocated to the departments and offices of government," Abella said in a statement.
"This is part of the checks and balances of our system of government," he added.
In an interview on Wednesday, President Rodrigo Duterte denied that he influenced the lawmakers in coming up with such decision.
The President said the lawmakers were apparently piqued by CHR as its chairperson, Chito Gascon, "opens his mouth in a most inappropriate way."
He said that the P1,000 fund allocated for CHR should be reviewed.
The NCIP's budget was also reduced to P1,000 from its original budget of P1.132 billion as it allegedly failed to protect the rights of national minorities.
It could be recalled that Duterte threatened last July 24 to bomb schools of indigenous peoples, noting that Lumad children were allegedly taught about "subversion and communism."
The ERC originally received a proposed budget of P365 million but corruption issues hounding the commission swayed the lawmakers to slash its funding next year.
In November last year, Duterte cited internal and intelligence reports that there is rampant corruption and questionable appointments within the ERC. (SunStar Philippines)