Human Rights Watch hits Congress fund for CHR

Human Rights Watch hits Congress fund for CHR

Human Rights Watch hits Congress fund for CHR

A New York-based global human rights group has denounced the virtual defunding of the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) following the move of the Lower House to appropriate mere P1,000 or about $20 for its budget next fiscal year.

House speaker Pantaleon Alvarez said in a television interview the budget cut was necessary because the agency was "useless" and defended criminals.

The House, one of two chambers of the Philippine Congress, cut the Commission on Human Rights allotment to 1,000 pesos in the 3.8-trillion-peso national budget bill that it passed on second reading late yesterday.

Nicknamed "the Punisher" for his lethal approach to policing, Duterte has previously threatened to abolish CHR, a body he despises for its criticism of his killing campaign, although he later said his threat was a "joke".

The CHR had requested a budget of 1.72bn pesos (£25m) for 2018, but the government proposed less than half that.

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The CHR has long said it lacks funding to fully investigate the killings, the majority of which activists say are of users and small-time peddlers.

The drug war remains popular in a citizenry fed up by high crime, according to independent polls, and critics have faced the wrath of Duterte supporters.

In a statement, the Commission on Human Rights said it regretted the decision to "undermine our role as a check-and-balance mechanism" which it said it did "without fear or favour, in a non-partisan manner, and as rightfully mandated by the 1987 constitution".

CHR head Chito Gascon said the measly budget was an attempt to force his resignation.

"The principal reason why I can not resign my office is that to do so is to weaken the institution itself", Gascon said. Duterte has angrily rejected that and police say they kill only in self-defense, but anger has come to a boil among many Filipinos following recent extra-judicial killings that claimed the lives of children.

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The body has been investigating some of the deaths of more than 3,800 narcotics suspects killed by police and other drug enforcement agencies in what they have described as "legitimate" operations.

Despite its flaws, she added, Karapatan still sees "the recent attempts of the Duterte administration to de facto abolish the CHR as a risky step that undermines available mechanisms for redress for human rights violations in this so-called democratic form of government".

He added: "On pretext, asking me to resign would lead to essentially making the institution forever at the mercy of politics".

He has said he would even take the matter to the Supreme Court if required, Reuters reported. "We need to be reminded that the CHR's main function is to curb the excesses and abuses of those in the seat of power", he said.

Agnes Callamard, the UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial killings, said Filipinos deserved a strong, independent rights organisation that could hold the state accountable.

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