It was a pathetic sight, to say the least. Shameless would be a more appropriate word to describe the photo showing the administration congressmen posing with the clenched fists associated with President Duterte to celebrate an even more revolting and shameless move to reduce the budget of the Commission on Human Rights to a mere P1,000. It was just as revolting as those photos of US Marines posing with tortured detainees in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The move by 119 members of the House of Turncoats, now also known as the House of Bullies (remember how they bullied the Ilocos Six and how they are now bullying Chief Justice Lourdes Sereno and Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales), to virtually abolish the constitutional body has rightfully triggered a public outrage because it not only stamped congressional approval of the trend towards authoritarianism but also confirmed the diminution of respect for human rights and the Rule of Law under the present administration.
The outrageous move also showed that the current dispensation would do anything to bulldoze anyone or any institution that criticizes or obstructs its myopic view of governance. In the same manner that the administration allies punished and silenced its foremost critic, Sen Leila de Lima, who incidentally also chaired the CHR and investigated extrajudicial killings during the time of Duterte as mayor of Davao City, the administration’s allies in that not-so-honorable House now want to disable the human rights body and crucify its head.
While Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez and his chosen executioner, 1-Sagip Rep. Rodante Marcoleta, want us to believe that the axe was dropped on the CHR allegedly because it was under-performing and because of its failure to investigate rights violations by terrorists and criminals, the move was clearly an act of revenge for the strong criticisms by CHR Chairman Chito Gascon of Duterte’s bloody drug war and human rights violations committed under its name.
The President was more forthcoming when he declared that Gascon “had it coming.” In a press conference, Duterte said Gascon had overstepped his bounds in actively investigating human rights abuses in the Philippines, angering congressmen in the process and causing the House to vote for a 2018 budget of P1,000 for the CHR.
Duterte said Gascon “opens his mouth in the most inappropriate way and (the way) he conducts the business of being CHR, walang alam (he knows nothing).”
And then it became obvious that it was a vengeful act against Gascon when Alvarez and Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II, who comprise the Duterte Diehard Duo, chorused that Gascon should resign to spare the human rights body from a P1,000 budget, which would render CHR basically un-operational.
A lowly bureaucrat, DILG Assistant Secretary Epimaco Densing III, joined in and said Gascon was using CHR to propagate the interest of the Liberal Party and should, therefore, resign to “save CHR as an independent institution.” I wouldn’t be surprised if his name would be considered a replacement for Gascon or for appointment to a higher post.
Those who pushed and supported the slashing of CHR’s budget claimed that the agency was not being fair because it was only investigating the state and its police and military arms, while failing to look into the atrocities committed by terrorists and criminals.
Duterte, Alvarez, Aguirre and the 119 congressmen who voted to slash CHR’s budget for 2018 to basically nothing conveniently forgot that the CHR is an agency created under the 1987 Constitution as an anti-dote to abuses committed during the martial law regime of the late President Marcos and to make sure that these are not repeated.
As Inquirer columnist Randy David correctly pointed out: “Its basic mandate was clear from the start: to investigate and redress the massive human rights violations committed by the police and the military during martial law, as well as to protect the people against a repetition of such abuses. The deliberations of the constitutional commission attest to this.”
The CHR was mandated to ensure that the state and its law enforcers would not violate the human rights of the ordinary citizen, who otherwise would be helpless against the powerful state and its police and military. The CHR is the people’s first line of defense against dictatorial rule.
The CHR does not have the resources to go beyond the mandate given to it by the Constitution – to protect the people from abuses of the state. After all, it is the duty of the police to go after criminals and with the military, to stop the terrorists.
It is not surprising, of course, that Duterte, Alvarez and Aguirre are using their immense power to go after CHR. They have openly slammed even the United Nations Commission on Human Rights for allegedly interfering in the country’s internal affairs.
But, again, the administration is choosing to ignore a United Nations covenant, known as “Paris Principles,” to which the Philippines is a signatory. The UN Resolution prescribed standards to maintain national human rights institutions, including their basic functions and responsibilities, methods of operation and guaranteeing adequate resources and financial autonomy to enable them to carry out their mandates.
With the move to virtually abolish the CHR, the congressmen became instruments in destroying democracy, human rights and the Rule of Law, and bringing the country closer to tyranny.
Attention now focuses on the Senate, whether it is ready to stand for democracy and against authoritarianism. It is hoped that the senators would be more independent and more sensible than those shameless and reckless men and women comprising the supermajority in that lower and inferior house.
The Senate Committee on Finance has already approved the P678-million proposed budget for CHR, which will most likely be passed overwhelmingly in the floor. That would put the the upper and lower houses in direct confrontation and delay the passage of the national budget.
Who will blink first? Your guess is as good as mine.