Philippine congress sharply cuts rights body’s budget


The House of Representatives voted Tuesday to drastically cut the proposed budget for the Commission on Human Rights (CHR), an agency that has investigated thousands of killings connected with the government's war on drugs.

Lawmakers allied with President Rodrigo Duterte agreed to reduce the annual budget allocation to just 1,000 pesos ($20) from the 2017 budget of PHP749 million ($14.69 million).

Lawmaker Rodante Marcoleta pushed for the sharp budget decrease, saying the agency is not upholding the human rights of everyone.

"You are supposed to investigate all human rights violations irrespective of any group, any location, whether they are soldiers, policemen, NPA, or members of the Maute (terrorist) group," Marcoleta said as quoted by GMA News.

"There shouldn't be a selective application. You can condemn, but that is not the function of the CHR," he added.

Marcoleta also noted the legal basis of the creation of the agency, as it was only created by an executive order issued by former President Corazon Aquino in 1986 during the revolutionary government when there was no Congress.

A total of 119 lawmakers favored Marcoleta's motion while only 32 objected to it.

Cebu City north district Representative Raul Del Mar justified the CHR's previous budget, saying condemning human rights violations is part of the agency's responsibilities.

Other lawmakers who opposed the motion expressed dismay as giving the CHR a paltry budget is like virtually abolishing it and would make it useless in its mandate to protect the people from human rights abuses.

Agnes Callamard, the United Nations special rapporteur on extrajudicial killings who has repeatedly criticized Duterte's administration for human rights violations as a result of its brutal war on drugs, slammed the PHP1,000 budget, saying the move is "reprehensible and unconscionable".

"It cannot deliver on its mandate without an appropriate budget, particularly at a time when it is confronted with allegations of massive human rights violations throughout the country, and including, but not only, in the context of the ill-advised, destructive 'war on drugs,' Callamard was quoted as saying by Rappler, a Philippine-based online news portal.

In contrast, the House of Representatives earlier approved a PHP900 million ($17.68 million) budget for the Philippine police's anti-drug campaign.

But the PHP1,000 budget is not yet final, as it will still be deliberated in the Senate and in the Bicameral Conference Committee before being submitted to Duterte for final approval.

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