CATHOLIC NEWS OF THE WEEK . Saturday, 23 September 2017

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Lawmakers cripple Philippine human rights commission

HONG KONG (SE): On September 12, the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) of The Philippines saw its 2018 budget whittled down to a mere 1,000 pesos ($152) by the House of Representatives of the country’s Congress which claimed the commission—which is a constitutional body—was not doing its job.
 
The National Commission on Indigenous Peoples and Energy Regulatory Commission also found their proposed budgets eviscerated.
 
Expressing shock at the 119-32 vote, Auxiliary Bishop Broderick Pabillo, from Manila, said lawmakers had committed “a great insult to human rights and an affront to the constitution.”
 
According to MindaNews the CHR proposed a budget of 623.38 million pesos ($95 million). It also reported that former Senate president, Aquilino Pimentel, pointed out that Congress could not abolish a constitutional body and that the vote was “a self-inflicted censure of the way some government bodies are being run.”
 
House speaker, Pantaleon Alvarez, said Congress could not abolish a constitutional body but did the next best thing.
 
“If it were up to me, I’d have given them zero budget,” UCAN reported him as saying. 
 
The former bishop of Puerto Princesa, Bishop Pedro Arigo, said that lawmakers are scared of the commission because they have also committed human rights violations.
 
“It is the power of money at work again. Justice and truth, which have the last say will catch up with them,” the bishop said.
 
Human Rights Watch called the move, “a blow against accountability for human rights violations.”
 
The group’s deputy Asia director, Phelim Kine, said the vote is part of the government’s efforts to block independent institutions from checking its abuses, especially in the context of the drug war.
 
Kine said that while the commission’s performance “may not have been fully satisfactory to many Filipinos, its mandate is important in combating human rights abuses,” adding that, “Instead of defunding it, Congress should increase its resources and ensure that it fulfills that mandate.” 
 
CNN reported that Alvarez dangled the possibility of increasing the human rights commission’s budget during a press conference on September 15, provided it also investigated rights abuses committed by non-state individuals and entities.
 
Kris Ablan, the assistant secretary of Presidential Communications Office called the reduction of the budget a demand from Congress for “some form of accountability and to justify their budgets” from the agencies affected
 
In a statement, the CHR pointed out that it served the people as a state institution “separate and independent from the three principal branches of the government—as watchdog and protector against human rights abuses.”
 
The statement said, “We have called out violations and praised positive measures across administrations in promoting the societal goals of justice and rule of law.” It thanked those “who stood up with us in our fight for this country and human rights during the budget deliberations at the House of Representatives.”
 
Roberto Cadiz, commissioner of the CHR, told CNN Philippines’ The Source that Congress misunderstood the commission’s mandate, which is to go after those who suffer abuse at the hands of government.
 
“When state agents such as policemen or officers of the government commit … atrocities, that’s when the CHR comes in,” he said. 

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