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MANILA, Philippines – Majority of the House of Representatives voted to give the Commission on Human Rights a measly P1,000 for its 2018 budget upon the motion of SAGIP Representative Rodante Marcoleta.
During the interpellation, Marcoleta slammed the CHR for deferring “more to the United Nations special rapporteur,” further questioning why it didn’t protect the human rights of President Rodrigo Duterte when he was criticized for his bloody war on drugs.
CHR, according to the 1987 Philippine Constitution, is tasked to investigate allegations of human rights abuses by state actors such as the military or police. It acts as a check-and-balance against government abuses.
But who is Marcoleta – the legislator who moved to give the CHR a budget below what it needs amid human rights violations in the administration's brutal war on drugs?
Member of the INC
Marcoleta represents 1-SAGIP and is a member of PDP-Laban. He was elected SAGIP representative in 2016. SAGIP, according to its website, envisions a pro-poor Philippines.
He is no stranger to legislative work. Prior to SAGIP, Marcoleta used to represent the Alagad partylist. He held the position from 2004 to 2007 and 2009 until 2013.
Marcoleta wasn’t always part of the majority, however. In October 2016, he joined more than 250 lawmakers in the supermajority allied with Duterte.
He used to be part of the “Legitimate 8” or the House minority bloc which was formed to protest Quezon 3rd District Representative Danilo Suarez's controversial win as House Minority Leader. The members regarded themselves as the "true" fiscalizers in the House of Representatives.
Marcoleta was even quoted as saying during a press conference in July 2016, “Affected na affected ako na ang rule ay puwedeng baluktutin!” (I am very affected that rules can be easily twisted.)
Albay 1st District Representative Edcel Lagman even called him an “outstanding member” of the bloc – different from the legislator who misunderstood the role of CHR.
Why did he leave? According to Lagman, they were told that “his church wanted him to join the majority.”
The church he was referring to is the influential Iglesia ni Cristo (INC) which has been involved in controversies in past years. (READ: Revolt in the Iglesia ni Cristo)
Marcoleta’s former party, Alagad, was also associated with the INC. (READ: Iglesia ni Cristo, Corona, and the RH bill)
INC, who practices block voting, also endorsed the candidacy of Duterte together with former senator Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr during the 2016 national elections.
The INC and its members also vehemently opposed then justice secretary and now detained Senator Leila de Lima. She used to head the CHR and is one of Duterte’s harshest critics. (READ: Why De Lima is target of Iglesia ni Cristo's anger)
SAGIP, CHR Goals
In the halls of Congress, Marcoleta's partylist championed the plight of the poorest Filipinos.
SAGIP also aims to pursue legislation to uplift the lives of indigents and marginalized, foster socio-economic development for inclusive growth, to help bring about quality education and a universal health care system, and to harmoniously work with agencies in the delivery of social protection programs.
The goals of SAGIP no doubt are aligned with what CHR wants to uphold. (READ: Things to know: Human rights in the Philippines)
As stated in the Constitution, the Commission is tasked to make sure the government respects and helps fulfill the rights of its citizens. These rights include the right to education and right to adequate living standards, among others. (READ: Hate human rights? They protect freedoms you enjoy)
The similarity in their goals is also evident in the way he worked in Congress.
Marcoleta voted against the return of the death penalty, similar to the stand of the CHR. He also voted in favor of free tuition in college and the highly controversial Reproductive Health bill. He is also one of the co-authors of the free basic medicine services for Filipinos and the magna carta for the poor, among others.
But something happened that made Marcoleta take on a different track.
That the CHR will receive the measly amount for its 2018 budget is not yet final. Senators have expressed their desire to defend the almost P678-million funding the Commission has proposed.
Most of the public, meanwhile, have slammed those who voted for the P1,000 budget. With the outpour of criticism by constituents and several human rights organizations, each of the more than 100 lawmakers are now moving to explain his or her vote. – Rappler.com
Jodesz Gavilan is a writer and researcher for Rappler and its investigative arm, Newsbreak. She covers human rights and also hosts the weekly podcast Newsbreak: Beyond the Stories. She joined Rappler in 2014 after obtaining her journalism degree from the University of the Philippines.