The House of Representatives on Tuesday, September 12 voted to allocate a 2018 budget of P1,000 to the Commission on Human Rights (CHR), a move that – when finalized after two more voting sessions – will essentially abolish the agency.
A total of 119 lawmakers voted to slash the budget, while 32 were against the motion. The vote comes after the rights body consistently criticized President Rodrigo Duterte’s brutal war against illegal drugs.
Many expressed frustration at this vote for a motion filed by SAGIP Representative Rodante Marcoleta. The Department of Budget Management (DBM) has originally requested a P678-million budget for the commission next year, much lower than its current P749-million budget.
With massive favor to reduce the agency’s budget to a measly amount, however, it was crystal clear that the representatives, including House Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez himself, are unconvinced the rights body is carrying out it’s duty (citing inaction on victims of rape and of other heinous crimes) or if it’s relevant to begin with.
But here are 5 reasons why the Philippine rights body (or any country’s) is important and should therefore not be abolished:
1. It is the constitution’s mandate.
The commission was created on May 5, 1987, a few months after the ratification of the 1987 Constitution under the late President Corazon Aquino. That same constitution, under Section 18, Article 13, tasks the CHR to protect the civil and political rights of citizens in the Philippines and investigate complaints of human rights violations, promote the protection of, respect for and the enhancements of the people’s human rights including civil and political rights.
The mere fact the the constitution is mandating the protection of human rights through CHR, is more than enough reason for lawmakers to support and uphold it through further legislation. What the nation witnessed yesterday was the stark opposite.
2. It protects the freedom Filipinos enjoy.
Unbeknownst to many (especially online), human rights are not only for criminals. The Philippine Constitution entitles every Filipino to the Bill of Rights, which is comprised of a total of 22 sections declaring all the rights and privileges government must uphold, respect, and protect. CHR protects the freedom the country’s citizens enjoy, such as: right to life, liberty, and property; right to education, right to peaceful assembly and association, right of equal access to public service; and the right to work.
We are also a signatory country in various international laws such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), and the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), where other rights are preserved.
3. Human rights abuses are rampant.
Reading or hearing the name, “Kian Loyd Delos Santos,” is enough reminder that everyone can be unjustly accused and punished without due process. The 17-year-old teen was killed by Caloocan police as part of what the authorities call a “one-time, big-time” operation against illegal drugs in Manila.
The night of August 16, as Kian was about to close their shop, two men in civilian clothing dragged him and took him to dark, muddy alleyway. He was handed a gun, told to fire it off and run. He was later found dead in a fetal position, with gunshot wounds to his head. Two days later, 19-year-old Carl Arnaiz was killed in a supposed shootout also with Caloocan police for allegedly attempting to rob a taxi driver. His alleged confidante, 14-year-old Reynaldo de Guzman, was found dead cold in a river in Nueva Ecija with packaging tape around his head and 31 stab wounds in the chest area.
But there were so many others before Kian, Carl and Kulot. While they were filed as ‘deaths under investigation’, they merely remained a statistical figure of the government for the most part. If anyone else other than the police has the right to look into this, it is CHR.
4. There’s such a thing as accountability.
This leads us to the talk of accountability. CHR is tasked to make sure that methods used by authorities do not violate human rights. In cases like those of Kian, where evidences yielded from a CCTV footage and post-mortem analysis show possible irregularities in the operation, the authorities might be in a questionable position. This is where the rights group come in.
The agency was made independent for a reason. Having a body apart from means having a ‘watchdog’ to check abuses in the drug war and in the process, help in correcting and preventing it. The attempt to defund the CHR is “a blow against accountability for human rights violations in the Philippines,” according to a statement by the Human Rights Watch Deputy Asia Director Phelim Kine.
With this 1,000-peso, CHR budget motion supported by legislators, the war on drugs has extended to a war on accountability, a pillar of democracy now in grave danger.
Why do you think the CHR is important? For a simple yet sufficient answer: “It’s because you’re a human.”
Illustration by Madel Crudo