On September 12, 2017, Congress voted to give the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) a budget of P1,000.00. There is no need to panic. This part of the law will never be passed. And if it is passed, the matter will be brought to the Supreme Court and we can expect that act to be junked.
We can expect a lower budget for the CHR. But for the budget to go down to P1,000.00? It won’t happen. Let’s all breathe, be calm, and find out why:
The CHR has a mandate in the Constitution.
The CHR is an independent office created by the 1987 Constitution. Its functions are mandated by the Constitution. Its personnel and projects are recognized by the Constitution. It was created to expose and do something about any abuses of our government against its people. It was made independent because the drafters of the Constitution recognized a need to ensure that it would always be present to speak out. It isn’t run by donations by private persons. It is run with government funds.
The CHR is NOT a mere creation of the Legislature. Congress cannot just do away with it as it pleases. The reason that its existence is set in stone in the constitution is to ensure that it cannot be legislated away. Congress cannot just completely take away its funding. It is required by the constitution to fund the CHR. Those words are not explicit in the Constitution. You have to read between the lines to see it.
Even the House of Representatives knew that if they did not appropriate any money for the CHR, the law would consider their act illegal. That’s why they decided to put in P1,000.00, not zero. But that’s not even enough for the operations of a skeleton crew.
President Duterte requested a budget of P678 million pesos for the CHR for 2018 (this year’s budget is P749 million). It was the House of Representatives that lowered the budget drastically to P1,000.00. This is not final. The bill would still be transmitted to the Senate. The budget will be rehashed there. After that, it can be taken up again in the bicameral committee. The P1,000.00 budget is far from final.
The CHR is not a mere creation of Creation of the Legislature. Congress cannot just do away with it as it pleases.
So let’s be clear about one thing before we move on. The funding of the CHR can definitely be cut. The only question is with regard to how much funding the Legislature can cut back.
No reduction of salary and benefits, and security of tenure
The CHR has a Chairman and four (4) members. They have security of tenure. They will be paid no matter what. Their salaries and benefits cannot be decreased during their tenure. Congress can legislate their salary, but any change in salary would take effect after their tenure.
The CHR also has other personnel. Some are contractual, while others are plantilla. The budget would also have to consider the salaries of persons with plantilla positions. They have security of tenure as well. The salary standardization law governs their salary and benefits. Those personnel that are contractual may have a problem with their tenure, but if the contracts have already been approved for 2018, then they have a right be paid until the end of their contract.
A P1,000.00 budget will not be enough to pay them. That would make the appropriation unconstitutional. This is basic. It’s not explicit in the law, but it is a basic principle in government.
The CHR has other functions mandated by law and needs funding to execute them
Paying CHR officers and personnel is not enough. They can’t do much unless they are given the funds for executing their functions. Otherwise, they’ll just stay in their seats and talk among themselves while waiting for their salaries. It would be a big waste of government resources to allow them to do nothing, and you can’t get rid of them because of their security of tenure.
The CHR has functions mandated by the Constitution and special laws. A P1,000.00 budget cannot sustain those functions
The CHR has several functions mandated by the Constitution. A budget of P1,000.00 is not enough to to sustain those functions. And on top of those, the Legislature had also given the CHR other responsibilities as found in special laws, like the Magna Carta for Women, the Anti-Enforced Disappearance Law, and the Anti-Torture Law.
We should also remember that the CHR would have to pay for its electricity, utility, and maintenance bills, office supplies, gasoline, etc.
The CHR cannot execute its constitutionally mandated tasks and the added responsibilities given to it by special laws without a reasonable budget to work with. The President had already recommended a budget of P678 million. I do not understand the logic of the Congressmen in reducing that recommendation to P1,000.00. I do suspect that they did it in attempt to impress the president.
In the end, I am confident that the Senate and Bicameral Committee would do a better job when the bill reaches them.
But note that the Legislature may decide what to fund and what not to fund. They can determine what activities are useless and useful. The CHR can’t change or juggle these appropriations. It can use savings in those areas to augment their other projects. But remember what happened with PNoy and the DAP? The CHR can’t cut their appropriation to “save” for their other projects. That’s illegal.
Your congressmen are there because a majority voted for them
A lot of people worry about the CHR funding removal. They believe that the Congressmen were flexing their muscles in a power-tripping exercise. People say that the Administration wants to send a clear message – that they can do ANYTHING. People say that this is a well-planned effort which includes the filing of impeachment complaints against Andy Bautista (COMELEC) and Justice Sereno (SC). People believe that this is the way to make Duterte just like Marcos and allow him to rule the country for years to come.
I don’t know how true this is. I won’t even go there. But whatever happens, it was not possible without our own participation (or non-participation).
I do know this. Our congressmen are there because a majority voted them into office. Congressmen only have three (3) years to serve, and election year is coming. They need to suck up to get major support for their campaigns so that you would vote them again.
election year is coming…
One last thing. It’s not just the CHR with a P1,000.00 budget
There are three government offices whose budgets were decreased to P1,000.00. Congress decreased their budget because these three agencies allegedly performed very poorly. The two other agencies I refer to are the Energy Regulatory Board (ERC) and the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples (NCIP).
Unlike the CHR, the ERC and the NCIP are creations of the Legislature. Hence Congress can juggle their budget and personnel at will. These personnel are still entitled to their salaries, benefits, and tenure, but they can be placed into other agencies. So it is possible for those agencies to have a P1,000.00 budget since the people can be shifted around, and their functions legislated elsewhere .
That’s not true with regard to the CHR. The government cannot just juggle their employment because they are independent.
And that’s why I’m not so concerned about the CHR. I’m more concerned about the people who voted the congressmen. And I’m a lot more concerned about the NCIP. But that’s for another article.