MANILA - The P1,000 budget set aside for the Commission on Human Rights will severely cripple its operations, including funding to protect witnesses in President Rodrigo Duterte's drug war, a commissioner said Wednesday.
The CHR has its own witness protection program currently providing "sanctuary" to more than 10 people under threat from policemen implicated in drug-related killings, said Commissioner Leah Armamento.
"Ganun ba kahalaga ang human rights ng tao para sa ating gobyerno ngayon, yung P1000 na yun? Di ba parang nakakainsulto sa taong bayan yun?" she told ABS-CBN News.
(Is human rights worth this much to our government? That P1,000? Isn't that an insult.)
The House of Representatives on Tuesday reduced the commission's proposed P650-million budget to a minuscule P1,000 next year amid its criticism of Duterte's brutal drug war.
Armamento was "very optimistic" congressmen would not have their way, especially since the "more independent" Senate had already approved the agency's budget at the committee level.
Both chambers will reconcile their versions of the proposed national budget later this year.
But assuming the CHR would end up with a P1,000 budget, Armamento said its investigation into killings involving police officers, as in the case of teenages Kian Delos Santos and Carl Angelo Arnaiz, would take a hit.
She said the budget cut would affect funding for such basic operational costs as fuel for investigators.
Lawyers providing free legal assistance to human rights victims will lose their funding as well, she said.
The CHR has at least 111 special investigators and 39 lawyers nationwide.
"So saan kami kukuha ngayon ng pamasahe ng lawyers papunta sa court?" she said.
(Where will get transportation money to go to court dates?)
Much of the commission's efforts lately have been focused on ensuring that the human rights of people displaced by the Marawi conflict are protected, she said.
Armamento said CHR representatives would go to evacuation centers to check if occupants had access to basic needs as food, clean water and toilet.
A P1,000 budget will also mean the CHR will have to forgo with its P10,000 cash assistance for each child victim of human rights violations, she said.
"Yung delivery of services to the people, yun ang maaapektuhan nang malaki," she said.
(The delivery of services to the people will be greatly affected.)
Armamento said the budget cut was Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez's way of sending a message to the CHR to "toe the line" and "support whatever is the political agenda of the President."
Alvarez earlier sent word through another commissioner that the CHR budget would be approved if its chairman, Chito Gascon, resigned, she said.
Armamento said a resignation would create a "precedent that we can be bullied and then as an independent body, we will now cater to the whims of a political party."
"Hindi naman kami kalaban ng gobyerno," she said. "We are the conscience of the people so we are here to provide limitations to the immense powers of the state."