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Tuesday, February 27, 2024

Senate defers 2024 CHR budget over agency’s statements on abortion

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The Senate on Tuesday deferred the discussion on the proposed P934 million budget of the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) for 2024 after Senator Alan Peter Cayetano brought up the issue of abortion amid the CHR executive director’s vague stand on the issue.

The suspension was initially raised by Senator Jinggoy Estrada and was supported by Majority Floor Leader Joel Villanueva. Senate President Juan Miguel Zubiri then declared it suspended.

In his interpellation during the Senate plenary debate for the 2024 CHR budget, Cayetano expressed disappointment with an earlier statement made by CHR Executive Director Jacqueline Ann de Guia advocating for the decriminalization of abortion.

Cayetano asked if de Guia’s statement represents the commission’s official stand, to which Senator Jinggoy Estrada, who is the sponsor of the CHR’s budget in the Senate, said the statement was made by the 5th Commission of the CHR under the late then-Chairperson Chito Gascon.

“May I know if this is true and what is the context of this? Is it an official CHR recommendation or is this a misquote,” asked Cayetano.

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Estrada said the current commission, which is under Chairperson Richard Paat Palpal-latoc, has also not yet taken a stand on the issue.

Through Estrada, de Guia, who was present in the plenary deliberations, confirmed her statement.

Calling the statement “dangerous,” Cayetano said the CHR should be mindful that it is representing the Philippines especially when giving a sensitive stance on issues like abortion.

He said this is the case with other agencies that represent the country.

“Can ambassadors give a different position from the position of their State? If I am an ambassador [and] I am called by the US president, am I duty bound to give my position or the position of my government and my State?” he said.

Addressing the CHR, Cayetano said while its employees may express their personal opinions, abortion is not one of the issues they should be advocating for.

“I do not mind opinions, it is their right, especially on contemporary human rights issues,” he said.

“But as far as abortion is concerned, it is settled in our Philippine Constitution,” he added, citing Article 2 Section 12 of the 1987 Constitution which says, “The State recognizes the sanctity of family life and shall protect and strengthen the family as a basic autonomous social institution. It shall equally protect the life of the mother and the life of the unborn from conception.”

“Our constitution is quite unique kasi sinabi na ‘life starts at conception’… Meaning [to say], the executive director of a very sensitive commission is giving her own opinion which is contrary to the Philippine Constitution. How come there is no outrage from the commission that there is such a statement?” Cayetano said.

Responding to Cayetano, de Guia said her statement was only pushing for the decriminalization of abortion particularly when the life of the mother is in danger. The senator, however, said it was a “weak excuse.”

“‘Pag dine-criminalize mo, [para mong sinabi na] pwede na ‘yun. How can you protect the unborn if you’re not going to put any penalty to people who abort the fetus o baby? Jaywalking nga lang mayroon tayong penalty, eh,” he said.

Dismayed over the confirmation, Estrada opted to defer the budget approval, insisting that as a devout Catholic, he is not in favor of abortion. 

“Personally I am against abortion. I am a devout Catholic, and it is against the teachings of the Church, and it is penalized under existing laws and if ever the CHR is in favor of the abortion, I will be the one to opposed or go against them,” Estrada pointed out.

Cayetano asked the CHR officials for a categorical answer regarding their stand on the Philippine Constitution and whether they believe they need to protect the lives of both the mother and the unborn child.

“When you quote the Philippine Constitution, you are in fact speaking for all Filipinos. From the time it was ratified to all future generations unless the Constitution is amended,” he said.

“If you want to advocate pro-abortion, then get out of the commission or get out of government and do it,” he added.

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