Malacañang: CHR officials may be ‘replaced’

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Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte gestures as he delivers his state of the nation address at Congress in Manila on July 24, 2017, as Senate President Aquilino Pimentel (L) and House Speaker Pantaleon Alverez (R) listen. Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte vowed July 24 to press on with his controversial drug war that has claimed thousands of lives, as he outlined his vision of an "eye-for-an-eye" justice system. / AFP PHOTO / NOEL CELIS

By Ian Nicolas P. Cigaral

MALACAÑANG ON Thursday sought to explain the administration’s plan to abolish two government agencies whose key functions run counter to the reputed legacy of the Marcos family who are allies of President Rodrigo R. Duterte.

Mr. Duterte early this week said the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) is “better abolished,” adding that he would not allow the body to investigate possible human rights violations by the military while Mindanao is under martial law.

Meanwhile, Budget Secretary Benjamin E. Diokno said the government was planning to scrap the Presidential Commission on Good Government (PCGG), an agency tasked to recover the ill-gotten wealth of the Marcos family and their cronies. The Marcoses are allies of Mr. Duterte.

Presidential Spokesperson Ernesto C. Abella in a press briefing yesterday said Mr. Duterte was just airing out his “frustrations” toward CHR’s “biases” when he threatened to shut down the CHR.

“Basically, the President was simply expressing his frustrations regarding the apparent biases of the commission,” Mr. Abella said, adding that CHR officials may be “replaced” at Mr. Duterte’s will.

“It (CHR) is a constitutional commission and it cannot be abolished by mere legislation. The chairperson and its members, however, serve at the pleasure of the President,” the spokesperson added.

“We do not talk about empty threats, we talk about concerns.”

Both Defense Secretary Delfin N. Lorenzana and Philippine National Police Chief Director-General Ronald M. Dela Rosa threw support behind the proposed abolition of the CHR, saying security forces can perform their duties without committing abuses.

The CHR was created by the 1987 Constitution, which described the body as an “independent office.” Among its functions is to investigate “on its own or on complaint by any party” all forms of human-rights violations.

The CHR has been on the receiving end of Mr. Duterte’s verbal attacks after it launched an investigation on the alleged extrajudicial killings under the government’s brutal war on drugs.

On the possible termination of the PCGG, Mr. Abella said this is intended to “streamline” government processes and is not politically motivated.

“The Office of the Solicitor General (OSG) actually handles the cases filed to run after the Marcos ill-gotten wealth while the PCGG actually handles the administrative function,” he explained.

“I think it’s a question of streamlining. There’s no politics there.”

Asked if the OSG can handle the recovery of billions of dollars looted from state coffers during the Marcos dictatorship, considering the large number of cases managed by the said office, Mr. Abella said: “Based on the OSG position, apparently they can.”

“Regarding the PCGG, apparently that has been a move sometime back,” he also said.

The PCGG was created three decades ago just after the People Power Revolution that ended Mr. Marcos’s two-decade rule, which was marred by corruption and human rights abuses.

Commenting on Mr. Diokno’s remarks, the PCGG said in a statement yesterday that the agency was “surprised” by recent questions on its “performance, relevance, and efficiency.”

“Aside from the fact that it was awarded as the best…performing agency for three straight years, what other government agency can effectively raise non-tax revenues…?” it said.

Data released by the PCGG showed that it recovered P57.1 billion in 2012, P631 million in 2013, P1.57 billion in 2014, P14.01 billion in 2015 and P481.95 million in 2016.

This compares to the annual budget of the agency — P93 million in 2012, P102 million in 2013, P106 million in 2014, P101 million in 2015, and P104 million in 2016.

“Why is there a question on its budget and relevance when PCGG’s cost to recovery ratio is exemplary as shown by these numbers? Of all agencies? Figures do not lie,” the PCGG said.

Last May, House Speaker Pantaleon D. Alvarez filed House Bill (HB) 5233 which seeks to “strengthen” the OSG by streamlining government legal services under one agency, thereby effectively abolishing the OGCC as well as the PCGG.

Last year, the Office of the Ombudsman conducted an inquiry on the alleged links of Mr. Duterte to a death squad during his long mayoralty in Davao City based on a 2012 CHR resolution recommending a probe on the killing. Mr. Duterte was later cleared of the allegations.