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House won't restore CHR's proposed budget in full, Nograles says

The House of Representatives will not restore in full the proposed budget of the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) for 2018, House Appropriations Committee chairman Karlo Nograles said on Thursday.

In a press conference on Thursday, Nograles said that the House will give the CHR only P508 million out of its proposed P623 million for new appropriations.

"There are certain cuts we had to make doon sa MOOE (maintenance and other operating expenses). May ni-reduce kaming certain items like traveling expenses, not all, representation expenses, subscription expenses, basta sa MOOE," he said.

Nograles on Wednesday said his panel has been given the approval to endorse the restoration of the budget of the CHR, the Energy Regulatory Commission (ERC) and the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples (NCIP), which all received a measly P1,000 from the chamber.

He narrated that it was CHR chairman Chito Gascon who personally appeared before him at Majority Leader Rodolfo Fariñas' office on Wednesday to make "one final appeal" for the restoration of the budget.

"Chairman Gascon was asking kung pwede ma-reconsider. So we talked about human rights nga, talked about yung both sides, side niya, side namin sa House. And then after that, we sought an audience with Speaker Bebot," Nograles said.

"So inakyat namin kay Speaker, tinanggap naman ni Speaker. Then a decision was made," he added.

For his part, Gascon confirmed meeting with Fariñas and Nograles on Wednesday for a "frank" exchange of views regarding the CHR's programs and priorities.

They then met with Alvarez at around 3:30 p.m., he said.

In the course of conversation, Gascon said the House leaders reiterated their views on the constitutional mandate of the CHR to protect the rights of all persons.

"I acknowledged [that] as being correct and I explained that the principal role of CHR as an independent constitutional office is to serve as an oversight monitoring institution and that we are not a law enforcement agency," Gascon told GMA News Online in a text message.

Challenge for CHR

Nograles said the reduction in the proposed budget of the CHR is a challenge for the agency to perform their mandate properly.

"I think basically what's happening is we're restoring it to this much, we won't give everything but prove your sincerity also. You have to show to us that you'll really fulfill what you've committed," he said.

"We're challenging the CHR to step it up, to show us that they are worthy of the support of the Congress and let's talk about raising your budget in 2019 after we see the results," he added.

Nograles said that the reduced proposed budget of the CHR will not affect its programs.

"No naman. Because when we talked to Chairman Gascon about the cuts, I think he was just happy that we restored about P508 million. He was just happy with that," he said.

Nograles claimed that Gascon had committed to investigate human rights abuses done by non-state factors.

"The points of discussion were, sa side ng House, the Constitution provides all human rights violations. So it shouldn't be limited only to state actors, to military, to police, and he (Gascon) was very open naman about it," he said.

"He also committed na itong investigations ng CHR will not only be limited to state actors, military, police but will also include victims of those crimes committed by drug addicts, those victims of rape, of heinous crimes," he added.

What made the House leaders decide to restore the CHR's budget, Nograles said, was the commitment of the agency "to expand [their] investigation, the protection of human rights, also to victims of heinous crimes, victims of drug-related crimes, victims of those committed by criminals, those who are high on drugs."

For his part, Gascon told House leaders that they already have programs to promote the rights of all Filipinos.

"Our investigation services primarily although not exclusively focus on violations by state authorities," he said.

"If we were to significantly expand our investigation work beyond violations of state authorities it will require more funds beyond that currently in NEP (National Expenditure Program)," he added.

Face-saving move?

As of posting time, GMA News Online is still waiting for Gascon to confirm if they indeed made a commitment to House leaders to investigate cases of abuse done by non-state actors.

Albay Representative Edcel Lagman, however, belied Nograles' statement that the CHR committed to investigate human rights abuses done by non-state factors in order to secure their budget's restoration.

In a statement, Lagman said he is certain that Gascon "neither promised nor undertook to make such investigations."

"The CHR is mandated to investigate all human rights violations involving civil and political rights which are transgressed by the State, agents of the State, and private parties authorized or tolerated by the government," Lagman's statement read.

Lagman added that Gascon will not abandon the CHR's mandate in the Constitution and other international instruments wherein "the culprits are the State and its agents."

He said Nograles announcement, which he branded as "fake news," was only a "face-saving alibi" after the CHR's budget was restored following the public outcry and backlash that the House of Representatives received. —JST/KVD, GMA News