Duterte allies slash budget of human rights commission from $17 million to $25
Philippines politicians allied with President Rodrigo Duterte have slashed the annual budget for the Commission on Human Rights from $17 million to just $25.
- House Speaker says “useless” commission deserves a low budget for defending rights of criminals
- But advocates say the body is vital in protecting human rights
- The commission’s chairman says he will take the issue to the Supreme Court if necessary
The public body has clashed repeatedly with Mr Duterte over his violent campaign against illegal drugs, and human rights advocates say the move is aimed at supressing any dissent.
About four-fifths of lower house members supported the move to cut the commission’s budget to almost nil.
The house speaker and a close ally of Mr Duterte, Pantaleon Alvarez, said the commission deserved a low budget for being what he termed a “useless” body, and for defending the rights of criminals.
But Chito Gascon, the commission’s chairman, said the measly budget was clearly an attempt to force his resignation.
He said regardless of the reduced budget the organisation would continue on, and he would take the issue to the Supreme Court if necessary.
“We have a clear mandate to speak truth to power when it involves violations by state authorities on the rights of our power,” Mr Gascon said.
Much of the Government’s criticism of the commission has stemmed from its attempts to investigate deaths linked to the crackdown on illegal drugs unleashed by Mr Duterte in July last year.
More than 3,800 people have died in police operations or vigilante attacks in the violent campaign.
Activists say most of those killed were users and small-time peddlers, and there have been few high-profile arrests.
Police deny they have been executing suspects, saying those killed were violently resisting arrest.
Mr Gascon said they would now have to rely on the support of “civil society, the church, the media”.
“Hopefully the solidarity among people might be our best defence,” he said.
Duterte’s ‘continued attack on human rights defenders’
Phelim Kine, deputy Asia director for Human Rights Watch, said the commission, founded in 1987 after the fall of the Ferdinand Marcos dictatorship, was vital in the Philippines.
“[It] has this very symbolic and very important agency that is tasked with protecting the civil and vocal rights of Filipinos, to ensure that the types of grotesque abuses that occurred under the Marcos’ don’t repeat,” he said.
“The fact that pro-Duterte lawmakers are looking to eviscerate it as a functioning body is extremely worrying, given the extent of this human rights calamity that Duterte has inflicted on the Philippines as part of this so-called war on drugs.”
Mr Kine told the BBC the overwhelming support for the cut was simply an example of the Duterte administration trying to prevent independent institutions to investigate possible examples of abuse of power.
“We’ve seen attacks on leading lawmakers such as Leila de Lima, who is now behind bars on politically motivated drug charges,” he said.
“We’ve seen attacks on the media and we’ve seen Duterte himself threaten to kill human rights defenders and to target human rights organisations as part of it’s war on drugs.
“So this is the latest instance in which he is attacking and undermining elements and agencies of accountability.”
Growing numbers ‘appalled with murderous campaign’
The Government is reportedly planning a cut of 75 per cent in spending next year on drug rehabilitation facilities, while also seeking a massive hike in funding for the anti-drug campaign.
However, Mr Kine said many Filipinos supported the crackdown as a solution to rampant crime, which Mr Duterte said stemmed from drug addiction.
“It’s unquestionable that amongst the 38 per cent of Filipinos who voted for President Duterte last year, that [there is] pretty solid support for him still,” he said.
“But there is a growing constituency amongst Filipinos who are absolutely appalled at how this murderous campaign has been inflicted on the Philippines, targeting the most vulnerable citizens of society, mostly urban slum dwellers.
“And lately we have seen this deliberate targeting of children, as young as 14 years old, so there is growing resentment that is worrying the Duterte Government.
“They’re seeking to defang any potential challenges and those challenges come from these agencies of accountability, particularly the Commission on Human Rights.”
He said it would now be up to non-government organisations and the media to take over the commission’s role.
“The Government is implicated in potential incitement and instigation of mass killings, which are crimes against humanity,” he said.
“So these are serious potential charges that the Government may face.
“Now it’s going to come up to other independent organisations and the media, which is reporting on this fearlessly in the Philippines to take up that slack.”
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