In September, the Philippine Congress voted to allocate Php 1,000 (AUD24) to the Commission of Human Rights (CHR) for its 2018 budget. This decision was controversial because the CHR is the main agency that heavily criticised Duterte’s bloody drug war. CHR condemned the extra judicial killings done by police, vigilantes and other unidentified individuals, throughout his 15 months in office. Philippine House of Representative Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez stood firm in the Congress’ decision and decried the CHR as a “useless” body. He is infamously quoted for saying, “If you want to protect the rights of criminals, get your budget from the criminals.”
The Commission on Human Rights (CHR) is a Constitutional body created by Article XIII of the 1987 Constitution (Social Justice and Human Rights) and provides that “the approved annual appropriations of the Commission shall be automatically and regularly released.” It serves as a State institution — separate and independent from the three principal branches of the government — as watchdog and protector against human rights abuses. The CHR clashed with the Duterte administration as it fought against Duterte’s policy in treating alleged drug criminals. When the Congress voted to give it no more than AUD24, everyone knew that the CHR stood no chance of sustaining its vital function.
Duterte’s administration is already under fire for the consecutive killings of young men, particularly the August 17 killing of 17-year-old schoolboy Kian delos Santos. Although the war against drugs has killed thousands of suspects and jailed many more, it still failed to curtail addiction rates, while creating a climate of fear and insecurity. One striking controversy is the golden silence of the administration in the case of the smuggled Php6.4 billion worth of shabu from China. The Martial Law also haunted the Philippines with human rights violations of the past and of the present in Marawi City.
Although the Congress restored the budget of the CHR in 20 September, the decision to give it a 1,000-peso budget still raises a question of the value of human rights in the Philippines. That amount would only allocate less than one peso for each Filipino, which distressed many Filipinos and other nationalities worldwide. The police have amassed a lot of power in controlling peace and safety but the agency has also gained a mixed reputation from the public. There were people who lauded the strong-handed police operations but many felt afraid of the possibility that they might be framed or mistaken as drug addicts. This fear stems from Duterte’s blasé attitude towards the deaths from the drug war – being happy to slaughter millions of addicts and treating children killed in the crossfire as “collateral damage”.
International organisations from the UN to Amnesty International had long condemned Duterte’s drug war. UN special rapporteur on extrajudicial killings Agnes Callamard criticised the Duterte administration for its resistance against the UNCHR’s independent probe in the EJKs. When he met US Ambassador to the Philippines, Sung Kim, he reiterated his recent invitation for the UNHCR to set up a satellite office in the country.
While the Congress has already restored the original budget allocated for CHR, issues remain floating, such as its view of human life, the partisan politics and blind adherence of some politicians to the administration in an effort to snag a bigger chunk of the pork barrel fund and the power play it exercised by giving a minimal budget to a Constitutionally-mandated body. Human life is priceless and with the way life is being regarded, the more that we need someone to protect our rights against those in power who can abuse or take that away.
(The Philippine Times, October 2017 Print Edition)