Malilong: Billions for buses, none for human rights

THE National Economic Development Authority Board gave the Bus Rapid Transit project an additional P5.69 billion funding on the same day Congress approved a P1,000 budget for the Commission on Human Rights (CHR).

Bringing the BRT to Cebu City is a brainchild of Mayor Tomas Osmeña. The CHR, on the other hand, is a creation of the Constitution. Credit should go to Osmeña for securing the additional funding despite strong opposition coming from the equally influential camp of Presidential Assistant for the Visayas Michael Dino. The blame should be laid on CHR Chairman Chito Gascon’s doorsteps for the agency’s insulting budget. Or so says President Duterte himself.

Gascon is a fool, Duterte said, because he interferes in police investigation even if the CHR does not have prosecutorial powers. The CHR is incompetent, fumes Pantaleon Alvarez, Duterte’s chief ally in the House. “Why should you get budget from the government and yet you are not doing your job?”

What exactly is the CHR’s job? The answer is found in the Constitution. It says that the CHR has the power to, among others: a) investigate on its own or on complaint by any party all forms of human rights violations involving civil and political rights; and b) monitor the Philippine Government’s compliance with international treaty obligations on human rights.

During the term of practically every president, the CHR has been accused of bias against the government in immediately acting on reports of human rights violations committed by soldiers and policemen while being slow to investigate, if at all, human rights abuses perpetrated by communist rebels. In other words, the animosity has been there all the while but this is the first time that the government has reacted by starving the commission.

The displeasure is rooted in what the Duterte administration perceives as the CHR’s undue interference in the government’s war on drugs. Gascon’s insistence to investigate the killings that attended the war on drugs has infuriated Duterte and driven his allies in the House to cripple the CHR.

“If you want to protect the rights of criminals, get your budget from the criminals,” Alvarez told the CHR. In fact, the Constitution is clear as to where the commission shall get its budget. It says: “The approved annual appropriations of the Commission shall be automatically and regularly released.”

Pardon the language but Alvarez et al have Gascon by the balls. Congress has the power of the purse and the absolute discretion to determine how much to appropriate for what or whom. In fact, they don’t have to give any. That’s how powerful they are.

And we have money for buses and dedicated lanes but none for the promotion of human rights and there’s nothing the constitutionally-created CHR can do about it except perhaps, to pray for divine intervention.
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