Senators: P1,000 for CHR may prompt deadlock on nat’l budget

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SENATORS CROSSING party lines have criticized the House of Representatives’ move to limit the Commission on Human Rights’ (CHR) 2018 budget to a measly P1,000 — with a number of senators warning this allocation may impact on the national budget being pushed by President Rodrigo R. Duterte.

In a letter transmitted to House Speaker Pantaleon D. Alvarez on Tuesday, Sept. 12, Mr. Duterte sought “the immediate enactment of House Bill No. 6215” on the proposed General Appropriations Act of P3.77 trillion for 2018, which the House accordingly approved on second reading Tuesday night.

The House, however, had also earlier voted 119-32 to pitch a measly P1,000 budget each at the CHR and other agencies — a controversial vote that prompted criticism among the netizenry and also among the senators, apart from the minority.

Besides the CHR, the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples, and Energy Regulatory Commission were also each given a P1,000.

The next day, Rep. Karlo Alexei B. Nograles (Davao City, 1st district), chairman of the House appropriations committee, said in a statement that the budget “will likely get approved on 3rd and final reading on Sept. 21.”

On the other hand, minority senators have raised the specter of a reenacted budget — the P3.35-trillion budget of 2017 — due to differences between the senators and the majority vote in the House over the CHR’s budget.

“We will return the (P678-million) budget (for the CHR) in the Senate. We will take the position that if the House will not agree to restore the budget of the CHR, then so be it, we will have a re-enacted budget,” Senate Minority Leader Franklin M. Drilon said in an interview Wednesday that his office e-mailed to the media.

“The Senate, I would like to think, will not stand for the abolition of the CHR, through giving it a P1,000 budget. If the House will insist on that, then there will be a deadlock (on the) 2018 General Appropriations Act (being pushed by Mr. Duterte),” Mr. Drilon added.

His ally in the Senate minority, Senator Francis N. Pangilinan, said for his part: “Hindi kami papayag sa Senado sa inaprubahan ng House na P1, 000 budget para sa CHR. Tututulan namin nang maigi ang pag-apruba nito sa Senado kahit pa hindi maipasa ang 2018 budget at ma-re-enact and 2017 budget.” (We in the Senate will not abide by the House-approved P1,000-budget for the CHR. We will diligently oppose its approval in the Senate even if it means not passing the 2018 budget and reenacting the 2017 budget.)”Kalokohan ito (This is foolishness),” Mr. Pangilinan added. A commissioner of CHR, Gwendolyn Pimentel-Gana, had said on Tuesday that she was told by Mr. Alvarez that the P678-million budget will be restored if Mr. Gascon resigns.

Mr. Drilon said when sought for comment, “That is not proper. We should not use the budget for things like this. We look at the budget and if there’s anything wrong in the budget, let’s do something, but I don’t think the resignation is part of the CHR’s budget.”Mr. Drilon also issued a statement that “(t)he Senate Minority Bloc will support Senator Panfilo Lacson who chairs the Senate subcommittee that endorsed a P678-million budget of the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) for 2018….”Mr. Lacson for his part said on Twitter on Tuesday night: “I happen to be the sponsor of the CHR budget in the Senate, along with a few other agencies like the DND, ARMM, etc. I accept the challenge.”He also noted, “678M CHR budget reduced to 1K but House version of 2018 nat’l budget stays at 3.767T. It’s interesting to find out how the 677M was chopped.”Senate Majority Leader Vicente C. Sotto III acknowledged what he called a potential “stalemate” over this matter when it reaches a bicameral conference.

“Pagpalagay na natin nagkaroon ng stalemate sa bicam, may problema na ang buong gobyerno,” he said. (Let’s assume there’ll be a stalemate at the bicam. Then the government has a problem.)

But Mr. Sotto also raised the possibility of the President vetoing anything agreed upon at the bicameral conference.

Budget Secretary Benjamin E. Diokno, when sought for comment, said the Executive cannot augment the P1,000 allocation for the CHR if ever this is approved at the bicameral conference, citing the agency’s character as an independent body.

For his part, Senate President Aquilino Martin L. Pimentel III said, “If you veto the budget, it’s per line approach.” He added that Congress can still override the President’s veto: “May override naman. ‘Yung veto message niya, then two-thirds vote per house.”

Several senators also issued their statements in behalf of the CHR, with Senator Francis G. Escudero, for one, saying, “I will fight to restore its budget.”

Others, like Senator Emmanuel D. Pacquiao, also supported restoring CHR’s P678-million budget, while appealing too for a thorough discussion (“pag-usapang mabuti”) on the matter. — with Mario M. Banzon, Elijah Joseph C. Tubayan, Rosemarie A. Zamora and