House blinks

Ed JavierAs we write this piece, media reported that the House of Representatives has partially restored the Commission on Human Rights’ (CHR) budget for 2018.

House appropriations committee Chairman and Davao City Representative Karlo Nograles said that only 508 million of the P623.38 million original budget being proposed will be restored.

Maybe, the House leadership realized the snowballing public opinion against their initial decision to give the CHR a P1,000 budget that will render the agency virtually inutile.

It will be recalled that the general public including netizens rose in arms against the House initiative vowing to raise funds for CHR while some demanded that their tax be given to the constitutional body instead.

Had the House leadership insisted on giving the measly amount to the agency, what will happen to the Constitutional mandate of the CHR to “investigate, all forms of human rights violations involving civil and political rights?”

Cebu Representative Raul del Mar pointed out that “CHR can no longer function on such ridiculous amount. We are actually abolishing it, which we don’t have the power to do so.”

The possibility fills ordinary citizens with fear and horror.

The CHR was created after the EDSA revolution precisely to ensure that the atrocities against human rights during the dark martial law years will not be repeated.

Memories of disappearances and torture without any accountability from suspected authorities in the military and police, while all too real, have been forgotten.

As a journalist, we have seen plenty stupid plans made by politicians, including the recent proposal to accord congressmen immunity whenever they violate minor traffic laws.

But one of the most unbelievable silly acts we have seen is this move by the House to slash the CHR’s budget.

We saw on television how the House members had to vote three times before a final ruling was made. Twice by viva voce and the third by each member standing to indicate a vote of nay or aye.

In the end, 112 members stood to affirm their aye vote, while 32 stood to vote against the token budget.

The reason? House Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez charges CHR of not doing its job.

These days, the CHR has earned the ire of not only Alvarez and his minions but also the police whose all out operations against illegal drugs are now being questioned by the agency.

Some perceive the CHR as a toothless and all noise agency but at least it serve as some kind of voice, if not a deterrent against human rights abuses.

We personally have our reservations about the leadership skills of CHR Chairman Chito Gascon. We certainly don’t believe that he is apolitical nor independent.

If only we had our choice, we want him out of the CHR to save the agency from further embarrassment.

However, you don’t abolish or virtually obliterate a duly constitutional body just because you don’t like the face of the person leading the agency. The agency and what it represents is bigger than the person.

If the House leadership does not want Gascon, they should initiate an impeachment complaint against him being an impeachable officer. The 98 votes needed to impeach him would not be that difficult to muster for the Speaker.

Alvarez pointed out in an interview that CHR’s mandate is to protect everyone’s human rights, not just watch over the police and the government for abuses.

We agree with the Speaker. Gascon should ensure that the CHR is fair.

He should not only focus on the alleged abuses committed under the present administration but all human rights violations including those committed during the term of his benefactor, former President Noynoy Aquino.

Whatever happened to the case of the SAF 44 members who were massacred in Mamasapano and the hungry farmers who were killed when police dispersed the rally of protesting farmers in Kidapawan, Cotabato during the term of Aquino?

Currently, the CHR should also ensure that state agents and police forces do not violate the rights of citizens in its anti-drug operations. Thus, the need for a vocal, assertive and fearless CHR.

The CHR is also constitutionally mandated to “monitor the Philippine government’s compliance with international treaty obligations on human rights.”

That in itself is a reason for CHR’ s continued existence, belonging as we are to the community of nations.

A word of caution to our honorable lawmakers. please do not mess around with our Constitutional bodies.

We do understand where you are coming from. Up to a certain point.

But, let us be reminded by what the late great Nelson Mandela said: “To deny people their human rights is to challenge their very humanity.”

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