House restores budget for CHR, 2 other agencies

RG Cruz, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Sep 20 2017 08:10 PM | Updated as of Sep 20 2017 11:23 PM

MANILA (UPDATED) - The House of Representatives is set to restore the budget of three government agencies following an earlier vote to slash their funding to P1,000, House Appropriations Committee Chair Rep. Karlo Nograles said Wednesday.

Nograles said his panel has been given the green light to endorse the restoration of the 2018 proposed allocations for the Commission on Human Rights (CHR), the Energy Regulatory Commission (ERC), and the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples (NCIP) after the agency heads appealed to House Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez.

Lawmakers in the House earlier voted to slash the agencies' budget to only P1,000, saying they had failed to fulfill their respective mandates.

The CHR had an initial proposed budget of P623.38 million, the NCIP P1.132 billion, and the ERC P365 million.

The budget slash drew widespread criticism, particularly on the virtual defunding of the CHR over the stand of its officials against alleged killings and human rights abuses under the administration's drug war. 

The breakthrough was achieved after CHR Chair Jose Luis "Chito" Gascon, ERC Commissioner Geronimo Sta. Ana and NCIP Chair Leonor Oralde-Quintayo sought the help of House Majority Leader Rodolfo Fariñas and Nograles to act as a bridge between them and the Speaker.

Nograles said that during the meeting, Gascon agreed that the CHR should extend its investigations beyond human rights violations allegedly perpetrated by state agents and include other groups who victimize members of the police, the military and even civilians.

"The Speaker basically told Chairman Gascon that we are not the enemy. The Duterte government is not the enemy. We are one with the CHR in the fight against all forms of human rights violation, but they must start looking also at the violations committed by criminals and insurgents," Nograles said.

In a statement, Gascon thanked the lower chamber for "championing human rights" by restoring the commission's budget.

"We are grateful to those who stood firm in championing human rights inside and out the halls of Congress as CHR affirms its commitment to advance All Human Rights for All People. We thank the leadership of the House of Representatives for their open mind & open heart in accepting arguments of reason and necessity to continue to fund CHR's work," the statement read.

As for the ERC and the NCIP, Nograles said Alvarez and Fariñas secured the assurance that they would start taking all the necessary steps to fight graft and corruption and to carry out the full mandate of their office. 

"The dialogue was very frank but cordial. In the end, the Speaker was magnanimous in his decision and gave the green light to restoring their budget," Nograles said.

With this development, Nograles said the restoration of the budget for the CHR, the ERC and the NCIP would already be incorporated in the final version of the General Appropriations Bill (GAB) for 3rd reading approval by the House of Representatives in plenary.