How the House voted for a P1,000 CHR budget

MANILA, Philippines – Weeks after no less than the House Speaker threatened a “zero budget” for the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) and a day after he later clarified it would be reduced to P1,000 instead, the House of Representatives voted in favor of the measly budget.

The motion was put forward by SAGIP Representative Rodante Marcoleta, a member of the majority. (READ: House budget debates: CHR gets only P1,000 for 2018)

In the end, at least 119 legislators voted in favor of the budget slashes while at least 32 voted against it.

There is no official record of how voting went, since it was done through viva voce (literally: oral, as opposed to written). Legislators were eventually asked to stand up to indicate their vote for or against the motion.

Duterte’s human rights

The debate lasted less than 30 minutes during session.

Marcoleta, a member of the majority, cited an April 25, 2017 editorial by the New York Times entitled, “Let the World Condemn Duterte.”

“Did the CHR condemn this editorial?” he asked Cebu City 1st District Representative Raul del Mar, who sponsored the CHR budget. CHR Commissioner Chito Gascon, through Del Mar, said they did not.

“Does President Duterte have human rights?” asked Marcoleta again.

Del Mar said yes. “Everyone,” he said, had human rights.

“Does CHR think that human rights of President Duterte were violated by New York Times?” asked Marcoleta.

Gascon, through Del Mar, said the New York-based paper did not, because an editorial board has freedom of expression. Second, Gascon said, “public officials are held to abide by the standards set in our Constitution on human rights.”

Marcoleta said that if journalists had the right to express themselves, did Duterte not have that same right?

Del Mar, suppressing a chuckle, immediately answered: “Of course not, your honor. The President especially has the same rights.”

“So why is the President concerned when the President is only expressing himself” said Marcoleta, against questioning why the CHR did not express concern over the New York Times editorial.

The SAGIP representative went on to argue that the creation of the Constitutional body itself was wrong. Both Del Mar and later, BUHAY Representative Lito Atienza, corrected Marcoleta’s arguments against the CHR’s creation.

The CHR was created in 1987 through several articles in the Constitution, the Administrative Code of 1987, and EO 292.

Still, Marcoleta went on to move to give the CHR only P1,000 for 2018.

The motion was simultaneously seconded by the majority, and rejected by both the minority and a member of the House opposition bloc.

‘Puro defective’

Mali-mali po yung sinabi ni [Marcoleta] (What Marcoleta said was all wrong),” said Atienza, a member of the majority-recognized minority bloc.

Pampanga 4th District Representative Juan Pablo Bondoc, who seconded the Marcoleta motion, moved to divide the house. A multi-way argument between Bondoc, Atienza, and Caloocan City 2nd District Representative Edgar Erice, among others, ensued because a motion to suspend session was eventually approved.

An emotional Atienza took to the floor, explaining his opposition to the motion.

Kinakailangan ipaliwanag natin ito sapagkat mali-mali po yung mga sinabi ng ating kagalang-galang na Marcoleta na baka paniwalaan nating lahat, bumoto tayong lahat ayon sa kanya. Ang mga sinabi niya po ay puro mga defective. Pati pangulo ng bansa, idepensa ng Commission on Human Rights? Palagay ko naman napakalabo noon. Madaling sabihin, madaling pumintas pero napakahirap ng trabaho ng CHR. Kapag ito po ay inabolish natin ngayon, walang mapupuntahan ang ating bansa. Sapagkat ang problema natin ngayon ay violations of human rights. So the Commission should not be given P600 million, they should be given maybe P2 billion so that they can function properly,” he said, to the applause of the audience in the session hall.

(This needs to be explained because the Honorable Marcoleta is wrong. We might all believe him and vote based on what he says. All that he said is defective. Even the President of the country, the Commission on Human Rights has to defend? I think that’s preposterous. It’s easy to say things, it’s easy to criticize. But the CHR’s work is very difficult. If we abolish this today, our country will head nowhere. Because our country’s problem is the violation of human rights.)

“Let it not be said that in the middle of the darkness of the night, everyone slept. This representation is awake and will defend democracy all the way,” said Atienza.

Albay 1st District Representative Edcel Lagman, a member of the opposition bloc, also opposed the motion, pointing out that Marcoleta “failed to distinguish that there is a difference between common crimes and violations of human rights” in questioning why the CHR did not condemn atrocities by groups such as the Abu Sayyaf, the Maute Group, and other rebel groups.

Del Mar, noting that many – including House members – did not understand the CHR’s mandate, added: “Who’s kidding who? P1,000 is practically abolishing the CHR.”

“I wonder how we are looked at by the global community,” said Del Mar.

The House moved on to viva voce voting.

“The ayes have it,” said House Deputy Speaker Eric Singson.

Those against the motion immediately argued that the “nays” were louder. “Do not make the mistake of railroading this,” an incredulous Atienza said.

Legislators were then asked to stand to express their support of, or opposition to, the motion. Singson later declared that based on the vote, at least 119 voted to slash the CHR budget while 31 voted against it.

Erice tried to question the vote, asking if there was quorum. It was dismissed.

In the end, more than 100 voted for the budget slash, 31 against, and close to 100 remained silent.

According to various sources – news reports, the House plenary staff, and staff members of legislators, the following voted against the motion: 

The Commission’s budget, as proposed by the Department of Budget and Management, stands at P678 million – lower than 2017's P749 million. It originally wanted a P1.723-billion budget. – Rappler.com