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Sunday, March 3, 2024

CHR’s paltry budget

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Why doesn’t Congress give the Commission on Human Rights the budget that the broad scope of its functions demands?

The CHR has proven itself an independent body that upholds the protection of human rights, or, more precisely, civil and political rights.

It protects as well our enjoyment of freedom of speech, of expression, or of the press, or the right of the people to peaceably assemble and petition the government for redress of grievances as enshrined in the 1987 Constitution.

But most lawmakers during the 18th Congress, apparently eager to please the Duterte administration despite its bloody war on illegal drugs that led to the deaths of thousands in the hands of the police, rejected the CHR’s proposed budget for 2017 and instead wanted to give it a mere P1,000 for its operations for that year.

In effect, Congress wanted to abolish the office.

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Congress, however, eventually approved the CHR’s budget as the agency was created by no less than the fundamental law, and could not be wiped off the face of the earth simply by getting the majority vote of lawmakers.

The bias against the CHR as an independent constitutional body apparently continues to this day with the 19th Congress poised to approve a measly sum for its annual budget.

The CHR now laments it has been losing its employees while attracting a few applicants despite aggressive hiring because of low salaries.

In a recent Senate hearing to defend their proposed 2024 budget of P976 million, CHR Executive Director Jacqueline De Guia revealed their staff do not have allowances like other government agencies such as the Public Attorneys Office.

Yes, CHR has proposed a confidential fund, but it’s only a paltry P1 million for the whole of 2024.

Entry-level lawyers receive a gross pay of only between P60,000-P65,000 a month, according to the CHR executive.

If you’re a graduate of a top-tier private law school where your parents paid tuition of P350,000 per semester or P700,00 per year, or nearly P3 million for four years for tuition alone, why would you even consider getting paid P60,000 per month at CHR?

As of December 2022, the CHR central office had 112 vacant positions and 123 unfilled oppositions in its regional offices.

What’s sad is the CHR is getting a raw deal from Congress in terms of budget allocation despite its broad mandate.

The agency serves as a watchdog of human rights violations; monitors government’s compliance with human rights treaties and standards; advises government on how to improve policies and programs in defense of human rights; and educates government and public towards a better understanding of human rights.

Given all this, it stands to reason that the constitutional body ought to be given enough funds to do its work.

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