Human rights institutions are needed, Australian envoy says

Willard Cheng, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Sep 14 2017 10:04 PM

Australian Ambassador to the Philippines Amanda Gorely on Thursday stressed the importance of human rights institutions and the work of human rights defenders amid "a temptation from governments of all countries to lay siege to these institutions at times."

"There's always a temptation from governments of all countries to lay siege to these institutions at times but I think we can't sit here talking about the importance of dealing with this situation without acknowledging the role of those institutions and NGOs who support those people in a very hands-on way," Gorely said in a panel discussion during the 3rd International Dialogue on Human Trafficking.

"I would like to say and acknowledge the importance of human rights defenders, of national human rights institutions, of NGOs working in this space because these are the bodies that are often working for the rights of these people who are the very poorest of the poor, the most exploited," Gorely told the audience composed of government officials including Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre.

The Australian envoy's statement came days after the House of Representatives slashed the Commission on Human Rights budget to P1,000 from the original proposal amounting to about P623.38 million.

Australia had been working with the Philippine government in combating human trafficking and child exploitation. 

When sought for a reaction, Aguirre said Gorely's statement could not be attributed to President Rodrigo Duterte.

"That particular comment could not be ascribed to the president because the president himself says that he is neither supporting nor defending the action of Congress," Aguirre told reporters.

But Aguirre scored the CHR and its chair Chito Gascon for allegedly not taking the side of all victims of human rights violations, including victims of heinous crimes. He said the CHR should condemn the acts of drug traffickers as well. 

Aguirre blamed CHR Commissioner Chit Gascon for the agency's massive budget cut.

"Ano ang diperensya ng mga minors na pinatay ng mga pulis at mga scalawags at minors na pinatay ng drug scalawags na ito? Walang diperensya yan. Pare-parehong inosente ang mga minors na iyan ngunit isa lang ang nakikita nila," Aguirre said. 

(What is the difference between minors killed by police and minors killed by drugees? There is no difference. Both victims are innocent minors but the CHR only acknowledges one kind of victim.)

"I-condemn nila ang lahat ng human rights violation, hindi 'yung masyadong one sided," he added.

(The CHR should condemn all kinds of human rights violations. They should not be one-sided.)

Prior to the passage of the CHR's P1,000 budget for 2018, House Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez told human rights officials that their budget will be approved if Gascon would step down as the agency's chief.