Not public pressure: Why House agreed to give P508-M budget to CHR

Trishia Billones, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Sep 22 2017 10:58 AM

MANILA - Lawmakers have decided to give the Commission on Human Rights a budget bigger than P1,000 not because of public pressure, House Appropriations Committee Chair Rep. Karlo Nograles said Friday.

Nograles said lawmakers allocated P508 million to the rights body after CHR head Chito Gascon met with him, Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez and Majority Leader Rodolfo Fariñas.

"It was Chairman Gascon reaching out to us at the last minute trying to seek an audience with us, coming in with a more open mind…He was really seeking, appealing for reconsideration," Nograles told ANC's Headstart.

"When we met with the Speaker, the Speaker was magnanimous enough naman to say okay."

The House of Representatives last week voted to slash CHR's budget, leaving it with only P1,000 for 2018, amid the agency's staunch opposition to President Rodrigo Duterte's war against illegal drugs.

But on Thursday, the lawmakers agreed to give the commission P508 million, which is still lower than its original P623.38-million budget proposal.

Although Alvarez said the commission would be given a bigger budget if Gascon steps down, Nograles said the topic of the chair's resignation was not discussed during their meeting. What was discussed was Gascon's link to the Liberal Party. 

Duterte has said Gascon, a member of the former ruling political party, speaks "for the opposition who wants me out of the presidency."

Nograles said Gascon admitted he was part of the Liberal Party, but maintained that it was part of his past and he was trying to be "impartial and independent" in the performance of his duties as CHR chair. 

"Sinasabi na nga namin is yes, but when you make statements like that, hindi maiiwasan that it becomes associated with you because that is also your past...You always have to understand that when you make those statements, kasama na ang Commission diyan and it looks like you’re going against the government at hindi maiiwasang malalagyan talaga ng political color yan," said Nograles.

The leaders eventually found common ground and Gascon said he is open to condemning other forms of human rights violations, even those not committed by state actors. 

"He said he is open to expanding, he’s open to making statements condemning other violations of human rights—whether the victims are state actors, authorities, or individuals, or OFWs. Sinasabi naman niya Commission on Human Rights, they’re also there to protect the marginalized, the women—so all forms," said Nograles.

Under the Constitution, the CHR is tasked to probe human rights violations involving civil and political rights. Nograles said while lawmakers welcome having a watchdog, the agency must condemn all kinds of human rights violations it was mandated to probe.

"Okay lang yan, watchdog ng gobyerno ang CHR, then play your role as a watchdog. But when you condemn human rights violations, you must condemn all forms of human rights violations and not just be concentrated and partial and biased towards when human rights violations are committed allegedly by state actors," he said.