Palace: Dissenting opinions welcome

DISSIDENTS are still much welcome in government, Malacanang said Thursday as it underscored the administration’s respect for the opinions of the different heads of agencies, including constitutional commissions.

This, amid calls from some lawmakers for Commission on Human Rights Chairman Chito Gascon to resign for his fierce criticism of the government’s anti-narcotics campaign which led to the lawmakers’ decision to cut the commission’s budget.

“As far as Malacañang is concerned, we respect the different opinions, beliefs of the different heads of agencies. The statements you heard comes from the other branch, the legislative branch,” Communications Assistant Secretary Kris Ablan said.

“They are appointed by the President and previous president. The Palace respects the different heads of agencies, including constitutional commissions,” he added. 

Ablan insisted the Palace respected the fixed term of heads of agencies.

“Of course anyone in the same position would feel slighted if the opinions differ. That’s very natural for every human being, but the official policy is they are appointed for a fixed term. We respect the fixed term. They have their own opinions. This is a free country so we respect the opinions of the different heads of agencies,” he said.

In related develoipments:

A group of human rights lawyers on Thursday urged the public to support a campaign aimed at funding the Commission on Human Rights after lawmakers voted to give the agency a budget of only P1,000 for 2018.

In a statement released by Atty. Hilda Clave, the group—Artikulo Tres, whose members include former Vice President Jejomar Binay, former senator Rene Saguisag and young human rights lawyers—also criticized House Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez and the 119 congressmen who voted to allocate a measly P1,000 for the commission.

“Speaker Alvarez is taking the country down the road of tyranny, where the Constitution is treated as a mere scrap of paper, independent institutions are shackled, and the people’s right to live in dignity are sacrificed in the name of the ongoing drug war which has resulted to several extrajudicial killings,” the Artikulo Tres stated.

The European Union, while it refused to comment on the domestic policy, said there was a need for the Philippine government to adequately fund the Commission on Human Rights citing large figures of drug-related deaths that the institution needs to probe.

In a separate statement, European Chamber of Commerce of the Philippines also warned that the decision of the House of Representatives to slash the 2018 budget of CHR to P1,000 may “not send the right signals” to foreign investors.

“Human Rights Commissions play an important role in any country and need to be sufficiently resourced to play that role,” EU said in a statement.

The EU maintained that President Rodrigo Duterte’s campaign against illegal drugs must adhere to due process in line with the national law and international human rights law.

“The European Union reiterates the importance of carrying out the fight against illegal drugs in the Philippines in full compliance with due process, national law and international human rights law,” the EU stated in a report posted in GMAnews online. With Sara Susanne Fabunan

The human rights lawyers themselves said the CHR was a constitutional body and the actions of the House violated the Constitution.

“We, therefore, appeal to the Filipino people who value human rights and democracy to contribute to a fund to support the operations of the CHR, which is a government agency created and provided under Article 13, Section 17 of the Philippine Constitution,” the group said. 

The lawyers said the action of Alvarez and the 119 “violates the Constitution which enshrines respect and protection of human rights.”

The group cited Section 1 of Article 13 mandating Congress “to give highest priority to the enactment that protect and enhance the rights of the people to human dignity, reduce social, economic and political iniquities, and remove cultural iniquities by equitably diffusing wealth and political power for the common good.”

Voting 119-32, the overwhelming majority members of the House of Representatives decided to reject the CHR’s proposed P649.484 million. 

They instead complied with the wishes of Alvarez, who earlier expressed his desire to give the commission a measly budget for being critical of the administration’s war on illegal drugs, which already claimed the lives of more than 13,000 suspected illegal drugs dealers and users.

Alvarez, a known confidant of President Rodrigo Duterte, defended the House’s decision to give the CHR a measly budget by saying it was a “useless” agency and because it defended the rights of criminal syndicates.

In voting for the P1,000 budget, 1-Sagip Party-list Rep. Rodante Marcoleta also cited the “failure” of the commission to investigate human rights violations of terrorists. 

At the same time, he noted the CHR was not a valid agency, having been created by an executive order issued by President Cory Aquino in 1986 during the revolutionary government when there was no Congress.

However, opposition stalwart Rep. Edcel Lagman said Marcoleta erred in his claim as Aquino was exercising both executive and legislative powers because the 8th Congress was not yet convened at the time when the CHR was created. 

He also said it would also be unconstitutional to give a practically zero budget to a constitutional body, because the 1987 Constitution gave the CHR fiscal autonomy.

Lagman also explained the CHR had no jurisdiction over common crimes, such as those committed by terrorists. It only has jurisdiction over rights violations perpetrated by the state and its agents.

“Emasculating and killing the CHR with an annual budget of only P1,000 is unconstitutional because it virtually abolishes a constitutional body or office by legislation. We cannot abolish a constitutional office by legislation,” Lagman said. 

According to him, the country needed the CHR because of “so many human rights violations” currently being committed.

The lack of budget would surely cripple the functions of the CHR next year and most likely halt its investigations of alleged human rights abuses committed by armed state organs nationwide which reportedly became rampant after the Duterte administration launched its bloody war on illegal drugs.

Meanwhile, ECCP president Guentef Taus said the recent decision might send a negative signal to foreign investors and that the Philippine government should consider the implication of this.

“We have to look at long-term solutions, meaning that goes with the political stability of the country as well as with the peace and order, and everything else. With a budget of $20 for the human rights commission, I don’t think we’re sending the right signals,” he said in a press briefing during the Arangkada Philippines forum.

He also admitted that inviting new foreign investments here was “becoming more and more difficult.”

Aside from CHR, the House also slashed the budget of Energy Regulatory Commission and National Commission for Indigenous Peoples to P1,000 for 2018.

On Wednesday, Senators Vicente Sotto III said it might be better for Gascon, an appointee of former President Benigno Aquino III, to just leave his post if he would always contradict the policies of  Duterte. With Sara Susanne Fabunan

Topics: Commission on Human Rights , Chito Gascon , Malacañang , Communications Assistant Secretary Kris Ablan , Atty. Hilda Clave , Artikulo Tres , Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez
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