September 25, 2017, 1:40 am
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2018 budget threatened by CHR mess

BY WENDELL VIGILIA AND JP LOPEZ

RE-ENACTED budget looming?

THE leadership of the House of Representatives won’t budge on its decision to endorse a   P1,000-budget for the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) for fiscal year 2018, even if congressmen have been drawing a lot of flak and even vitriol from the public.

“We don’t care if there’s one group there that’s angry at us. What’s important is we have done our duties as representatives of the people,” said Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez.

The House approved the P1,000-budget on Tuesday because of the CHR’s criticisms on President Duterte’s war against illegal drugs, which has killed thousands.

On Wednesday, several senators said they would restore the agency’s P678-million proposed budget.

Yesterday, Sen. Panfilo Lacson said the hard stance taken by the House, which effectively abolishes a constitutional body, would result in a re-enacted budget.

“If we will take a hard stance, and I would insist on the restoration of the P678 million… there would be a stalemate. If that happens, it is likely that we would have a re-enacted budget,” said Lacson, who chairs the Senate finance sub-committee that approved early this week the CHR’s P678-million proposed budget.

“You cannot pass the entire budget while leaving the budget of an agency,” he said.

Alvarez said the House “would not readily yield its power of the purse” to the Senate even if senators have vowed to work to restore the CHR’s original budget.

“I respect the Senate but it doesn’t mean that just because that’s what they  want (restoration), they’ll immediately get it,” he told radio dzMM.

Alvarez, however, said a compromise may still be reached with senators during the deliberations of the bicameral conference committee to reconcile the two houses’ versions of the 2018 budget.

“We can talk about it there (bicameral meetings with senators) but we can’t just do as they say,” he said.

Lacson said he would determine where congressmen put the P677.9 million slashed from the CHR’s proposed budget.

Rep. Karlo Nograles (PDP-Laban, Davao City) said the House wants the budgets of the CHR, the Energy Regulatory Commission (ERC), and the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples (NICP) to fund Republic Act 10931 or the Universal Access to Quality Tertiary Education Act.

“Yes, the budget (of the three agencies) will form part of the pool of funds to finance the Free Higher Education Law,” Nograles told reporters.

The ERC has a proposed budget of P650.9 million while the NCIP is asking Congress for a P1.13-billion budget. As in CHR’s case, the House endorsed a P1,000 budget for the ERC and NICP.

Lacson stressed Congress could not abolish the CHR as it was the 1987 Constitution that created the body.

“If you give P1k to CHR, effectively you abolish the agency… can GAA (General Appropriations Act), which is legislation, abolish a constitutional creation?… I think no. Being a layman, the Constitution is supreme over legislation,” he said.

Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana agreed with Lacson, saying the CHR, as a constitutional body could not be abolished.

Lorenzana, at a Senate hearing on the defense department’s budget, said the CHR should be given the full funding it deserves. 

He said the CHR “keeps government officials, especially the military and police, na ingat sila sa ginagawa nila   because anything that they will do could be liable for human rights violation,” he said.

Lorenzana, a former military general, said he had a “healthy relationship” with the CHR when he was in the field, and had even invited representatives from the agency to teach soldiers about human rights.

“If you are going to look at our record for the past couple of years, there are only a few cases of human rights violations in the military, practically nil,” he said.

A group of human rights lawyers, including former Vice President Jejomar Binay and former senator Rene Saguisag urged the public to support and fund the operations the Commission on Human Rights if the P1,000 budget of the agency for next year will be approved in the bicameral level. 

“Alvarez is taking the country down the road of tyranny, where the Constitution is treated as a mere scrap of paper, independent institutions are shackled, and the people’s right to live in dignity are sacrificed in the name of the ongoing drug war which has resulted to several extra judicial killings,” said the group,  called the Artikulo 3. 

Lawyer Hilda Clave, Artikulo 3 president, said the CHR is a constitutional body and the actions of the House violates the Constitution. – With Evan Orias
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