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Cruel CHR budget cut

I’m totally dismayed by the move of Congress to reduce the 2018 budget of the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) from P623.38 million to a mere P1,000, thus practically abolishing this constitutional body tasked with protecting our civil and political rights.

Human-rights advocates here and abroad have every reason to express outrage over this brazen travesty of the fundamental law by the House of Representatives. And I share the hope of the CHR that sober and rational voices within the Senate will not let this tyrannical exercise by some lawmakers of their power of the purse go unchallenged.

The CHR’s mandate, as I understand it, is to investigate on its own or on complaint by any party, all forms of human rights involving civil and political rights. These rights are laid down in Article 3 of the Constitution, and include due process of law, equal protection of the laws, the right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers and effects against unreasonable searches and seizures of whatever nature and for any purpose; privacy of communications and correspondence; freedom of speech, of expression and of the press; and the right of the people to peaceably assemble and petition the government for redress of grievances, among others.

Why doesn’t the CHR speak up and investigate the New People’s Army rebels who engage in extortion in the guise of so-called revolutionary taxation? Or the Abu Sayyaf who engage in kidnap-for ransom? Or ordinary criminals who commit murder, rape and other heinous crimes? Because the rebels, terrorists and criminals operate outside the purview of the law and running after them and filing charges against them is the job of the police and other law-enforcement agencies.

If the CHR, as some suggest, ought to condemn and file charges against criminals and rebels for violating the right to life, liberty and property of people, I don’t think that’s what the framers of the 1987 Constitution had in mind, as the creation of the CHR was impelled first and foremost by the need to prevent massive human-rights violations during the martial-law era, including torture, illegal arrests and detention, and enforced disappearances.

If those lawmakers and others who now want the CHR abolished for supposedly neglecting its duty, then they should ask themselves: who will protect them when their human rights are violated by the police, military and other persons in authority when they are no longer in power?

What’s going on at the Comelec?

Not everything, it seems, is A-OK at the Commission on Elections (Comelec) these days.

We understand that the six election commissioners have already urged Chairman Andres D. Bautista to consider resigning. Then there’s persistent rumors of graft and unauthorized travel and leaves of absence.

Commissioners Christian Robert Lim, Al Parreño, Luie Tito Guia, Arthur Lim, Rowena Amelia Guanzon and Sheriff Abas want Bautista to just resign and spare the institution from having its image tainted by allegations of hidden wealth against him.

Bautista also failed to attend to some of the agency’s important commitments, including the first budget briefing of the Comelec at the House of Representatives on
August 23.

With the Comelec already preparing for the barangay and Sangguniang Kabataan elections scheduled for October, which could, however, be postponed to a later date, the poll body already has its hands full, and everybody in the Comelec needs to pitch in. But according to reliable sources, it appears that Guanzon is actually not on full work-mode herself, considering her frequent travels abroad even without travel authority. For this month alone, she is said to have traveled twice—one is a vacation leave for a spiritual retreat.

To be fair, there’s nothing wrong with taking a vacation once in a while and traveling on official business, but these should have the corresponding travel authority. Sources say Guanzon is always out and on leave. So what does this say about her then? What is the purpose of her frequent travel and leave? Is it still for the benefit of the agency?

Lim has also found himself in hot water these days. Former Rep. Glenn Chong of Biliran has asked the Office of the Ombudsman to investigate him for graft and to initiate impeachment proceedings against him, citing Lim’s alleged manifest partiality in favor of election technology provider Smartmatic-Total Information Management Corp. in 2015, when he took over as officer in charge following the end of Comelec Chairman Sixto Brillantes’s term.

Chong also accused Lim of “manipulating his colleagues and persistently calling on Bautista to resign or take a leave”. Is this an indication of his intense interest in the position as the Comelec prepares for the 2019 midterm elections?

Whatever is happening to the Comelec now isn’t good for the agency, all the more for the Filipino people. How would it be able to “operate effectively, efficiently and free from political interference” with all these controversies?

The Comelec needs to shape up now and stand united to keep the integrity of our elections intact.

 

E-mail: ernhil@yahoo.com.

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