President Rodrigo Duterte on Wednesday said the decision of the House of Representatives to give a Php1,000 budget for the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) in 2018 may be subjected for a review.
“Iyung Php1,000 na binigay ng Congress sa opisina niya, kasi galit ang Congress sa kaniya,” said Duterte, referring to CHR chair Chito Gasco, in a chance interview in Taguig City.
“Pero ako naman since it is really an organ of government, it’s in the Constitution, maybe someday they might review their decision. Ako naman, hindi naman ako — I’m not here to destroy institutions.”
A total of 119 lawmakers favored the Php1,000 budget while 32 objected, on Tuesday. The CHR, which has been critical of the administration's war on drugs, had an original budget proposal of Php623.38 million.
The President did not give a direct answer to a question on whether the decision to give a P1,000 budget to the CHR was his order. He, however, alleged that Gascon “had it coming,” accusing the CHR chair of being allied to the opposition Liberal Party.
“Si Gascon palibhasa pro-'dilaw' talaga. He opens his mouth in the most inappropriate way,” he said. “Galit ang mga congressman. Ako wala akong ano sa kanya, bigyan mo iyan ng budget for all I care kung ano ang gusto mong imbestigahan.”
The President accused the Gascon of prejudging investigations into alleged illegal acts of state forces. “When you are an investigating agency and you are empowered to investigate and prosecute recommendations, itong g****g Gascon na ito, naikialam pa during the incident,” Duterte said.
In a statement after the lower chamber approved the budget cut, Gascon said he was deeply saddened, saying Congress' move was a "whimsical and capricious display of vindictiveness."
"We had hoped that both the Speaker and the House Majority would have been persuaded by reason and necessity to allocate an adequate budget to CHR in order for us to effectively perform our constitutional mandate as an independent office to protect human rights," he said.
During an ambush interview, CHR Commissioner Gwen Pimentel Gana confirmed that House Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez told her during their recent meeting that the CHR's budget would be approved if Gascon stepped down from his post.
"He [Alvarez] just expressed his feelings the same way he said to the public, that he intends to pursue the Php1,000 budget for the CHR and, of course, he did mention that if the chair [Gascon] would step down, then probably the budget would be increased or given to the CHR," she said.
Gascon refused to resign and instead thanked the 32 lawmakers who objected to the budget cut. All is not lost for the CHR, however, as the House’s budget for the CHR in the 2018 proposed budget will still be reconciled with the Senate’s version at the bicameral conference committee.
The Senate Committee on Finance earlier approved the Php678 million budget for the CHR. In the wake of the House of Representatives’ move, Senator Panfilo Lacson has vowed to push for the approval of the multi-million budget for the CHR.