Any discussion on human rights and the controversy generated by the slashing by the House of Representatives of the proposed budget of the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) from P678 million to P1,000 must start from the basic premise that human rights are inalienable or inviolable. As such, they apply to all citizens of all nations even if that nation hardly recognizes and even suppresses such rights.
Recognizing these inalienable rights, drawing from the painful lesson of the pains inflicted by martial rule, and aiming to prevent or at least minimize the number of state-instigated human rights abuses such as those committed during the regime of Ferdinand Marcos, the framers of the 1987 Constitution (which replaced the 1973 Marcos-dictated and spuriously approved Constitution through so-called barangay referendums) sought to protect citizens from an abusive State.
The 1987 Constitution, approved by more than 90% of voters in an open, free, and fair Constitutional referendum, states in Article XIII (Social, Justice, and Human Rights), “the Congress shall give the highest priority to the constitutional measures that protect and enhance the right of all the people to human dignity, reduce social, economic and political inequalities, and remove cultural inequities by equitably diffusing wealth and political power for the common good.”
This constitutional provision required an enabling law. Thus came to life the Act that created the CHR and abolished the Presidential Committee on Human Rights, one of several bodies created by President Corazon Aquino soon after the EDSA Revolution (the revolutionary period of her administration). As a constitutional body, the CHR is meant to be independent and non-partisan, separate from (but working with) the executive, legislative, and judiciary.
The House passed a Resolution on Sept. 12, providing for a P1,000 budget to the CHR, effectively abolishing the latter.
The Senate, led by Senator Panfilo Lacson, sponsor of the P678-million CHR budget, has vowed to fight for the CHR’s 2018 funds. Joining Lacson in the battle to restore the budget are the Senate President himself, Aquilino Pimentel III, and Minority Leader and former Senate President, Franklin Drilon. A bicameral committee is now expected to sort out this huge difference not just in amounts but in attitudes towards checks and balance, and the philosophy and morality of human rights.
Publicly available data show how the House voted on the resolution: 119 voted for, a whopping 141 abstained, and 32 voted against, for a total of 292 out of 297 voting members. The dissenters come from different parts of the country and represent varying groups including those belonging to the ruling coalition. Based on the list compiled by Rappler, the 32 are as follows:
1. Magdalo Representative Gary Alejano
2. Buhay Representative Lito Atienza
3. Dinagat Islands Representative Kaka Bag-ao
4. Quezon City 3rd District Representative Jorge Banal
5. Quezon City 6th District Representative Jose Christopher Belmonte
6. Capiz 1st District Representative Emmanuel Billones
7. Camarines Sur 3rd District Representative Gabriel Bordado
8. Gabriela Representative Arlene Brosas
9. Cebu 2nd District Representative Wilfredo Caminero
10. Anakpawis Representative Ariel Casilao
11. ACT Teachers Representative France Castro
12. Northern Samar 1st District Representative Raul Daza
13. Gabriela Representative Emmi de Jesus
14. Cebu City 1st District Representative Raul del Mar
15. Kabataan Representative Sarah Elago
16. Marikina 1st District Representative Bayani Fernando
17. Agusan del Norte 1st District Representative Lawrence Fortun
18. Baguio City Representative Mark Go
19. Albay 1st District Representative Edcel Lagman
20. Negros Oriental 1st District Representative Jocelyn Limkaichong
21. Agusan del Sur 2nd District Representative Evelyn Mellana
22. Manila 6th District Representative Rosenda Ann Ocampo
23. Lapu-Lapu City Representative Aileen Radaza
24. Siquijor Representative Rav Rocamora
25. Maguindanao 1st District Representative Bai Sandra Sema
26. ACT Teachers Representative Antonio Tinio
27. Nueva Ecija 3rd District Representative Rosanna Vergara
28. Akbayan Representative Tom Villarin
29. Bayan Muna Representative Carlos Zarate
30. Bukidnon 3rd District Representative Manuel Zubiri
31. Caloocan City 2nd District Representative Edgar Erice
32. Eastern Samar Representative Ben Evardone
Ironically, the House Resolution passed the budget barely two weeks before the 45th anniversary of Marcos’s “smiling martial law,” which marked the intensification of wholesale violation of human rights in the country.
With the whole state apparatus for abuse behind it, Marcos embarked on a systematic abuse of human rights designed to cow the population into submission for the ruling family’s perpetuation. To disguise this vicious agenda, the official reason for martial rule was “to save the Republic and form a New Society.”
Given the Constitutional basis and documented and empirical evidence of human rights abuses used ironically by US courts to rule on compensation for victims of human rights abuses, there is clearly a need for an office like the CHR. The need for an office that would address concerns on state-sponsored violence came to the fore since some parties wanted to discuss the issue devoid of partisan considerations. Our society, which purports to respect the dignity of man and to improve the condition of mankind, needs the CHR to protect citizens from those who are, in the first place, duty-bound and provided with publicly funded arms and bullets to protect these same citizens.
To ask therefore who will protect the rights of citizens or law enforcers from the NPA, terrorists, bandits, and extremists is to miss the point because the latter did not take an oath to the Republic to defend its citizens. In fact, they are, in a real sense, at war with the Republic.
Dr. Philip Ella Juico teaches Strategic Management and Sustainable Business in the MBA and DBA programs, respectively, of the Ramon V. Del Rosario College of Business of De La Salle University. He was Secretary of Agrarian Reform during the administration of President Corazon C. Aquino, and Chairman of the Philippine Sports Commission under President Fidel V. Ramos.