BUTUAN CITY – Residents and groups from different parts of the Caraga Region hailed the stand of two of its lawmakers on the proposed P1,000 budget of the Commission of Human Rights (CHR) next year.
The two lawmakers from Caraga Region, namely: Representatives Lawrence Fortun of the 1st District of Agusan del Norte and Las Nieves and Arlene Bag-ao of the island province of Dinagat, were among the 32 representatives that voted against the motion of Sagip Party-list Representative Rodante Marcoleta to give the CHR a P1,000 budget for 2018.
“I am proud of the two members of Congress from Caraga Region who chose to uphold the Constitution by opposing the P1,000 budget allocation for the CHR,” said Lawyer Josefa Sorrera-Ty, Dean of the College of Law at the Father Saturnino Urios University (FSUU) and a Certified Public Accountant based in Butuan City.
Sorrera-Ty said the CHR is an independent National Human Rights Institution (NHRI) created under the 1987 Philippine Constitution, established on May 5, 1987 by virtue of Executive Order No. 163.
She said the P1,000 budget allocation is a clear violation of the Constitution for it emasculates the CHR and prevents it to perform its constitutional mandate of protecting the human rights of the Filipinos.
Lawyer Dennis M. Bacala, Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP) governor for Eastern Mindanao, pointed out how shocked he was of the news.
“It was utterly shocking for Congress when it decided to give the CHR P 1,000 budget for 2018 showing arrogance and contempt to an independent office created under the 1987 Constitution of the Philippines. How could it possibly carry its Constitutional functions with such an amount,” Bacala asked.
Bacala said the congressmen who voted for the proposed budget showed bad judgment instead of professionalism, inappropriate comportment instead of class.
“The representatives who voted did not only jeopardize the agency’s operational expenses, but also the salary of its employees, even the retirement benefits of those who are scheduled to retire,” said Bacala on a statement which he posted on his social media account.
Fortun expressed that he is overwhelmed by the people who messaged him their support but said he felt sad on how the voting in Congress turned out.
“As a constitutional commission, it is an independent body that is supposed to have fiscal autonomy. Congress should respect the mandate of the CHR and as lawmakers we should help in strengthening and not weaken the institution; the best way to go should be to address the deficiencies of this constitutional institution,” said Fortun.
Fortun explained that if there is deficiency within the CHR it should have been addressed through better budget.
“If you think there are shortcomings within the CHR then put more budget on it for the institution would be able to function properly, weakening the Constitutional institution is not the way to go,” said the lawmaker.
Fortun added that, “I hope this incident will not tarnish the image of Congress, and I hope the Filipino people would not be too quick to judge our fellow lawmakers. I believe that there are still members of the house that is driven after the welfare of its people and its constituents. It might be painful for me to look at the very institution that I stand for go on this path, but I firmly believe that there is still hope for the House of Representatives.”
Student Groups Express Support
Renalyn Tejero, chairperson of the Student Christian Movement of Caraga State University (CSU) expressed the sentiment from their organization.
“We laud our representatives for their stand on opposing the call to defund CHR. These lawmakers have listened to the clamor of their poor constituents deprived of their rights. The shameless move of Duterte’s supermajority in the House of Representatives to allocate 1,000 for such government agency is tantamount to abolition of a constitutional body and is a full-blown disregard to human rights,” said Tejero.
Included on the list circulating on the internet, another lawmaker from Caraga Region was mentioned. Evelyn Mellana of the 2nd District of Agusan del Sur was included as part of those who voted no but staff from her office in Agusan del Sur failed to verify on the said list.
As of press time, hundreds of posts on the social media on the expressed their admiration and support on the stand of Fortun and Bag-oa, as well as calls to rally behind the lawmakers from cyber bullying and attacks on social media.