Philippine Congress backs annual budget of just $20 for agency probing drugs war

MANILA, Sept 12 (Reuters) – Philippine lawmakers allied with President Rodrigo Duterte on Tuesday voted to allocate an annual budget of just 1,000 pesos ($20) to the Commission on Human Rights, a public body that has clashed repeatedly with Duterte over his bloody war on drugs.

About four-fifths of lower house members present supported the move to cut the budget to almost nil, in what critics of the anti-drugs campaign call retaliation for the agency’s efforts to investigate thousands of killings over the past 15 months.

The CHR deserved a low budget for being a “useless” body and defending criminals’ rights, house speaker Pantaleon Alvarez, a close ally of Duterte, said in a television interview.

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Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte (C) clenches fist with members of the Philippine Army during his visit at the army headquarters in Taguig city, metro Manila, Philippines October 4, 2016. REUTERS/Romeo Ranoco

Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte gestures as he delivers a speech to the members of the Philippine Army during a visit at the army headquarters in Taguig city, metro Manila, Philippines October 4, 2016. REUTERS/Romeo Ranoco

Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte gestures as he delivers a speech to the members of the Philippine Army during a visit at the army headquarters in Taguig city, metro Manila, Philippines October 4, 2016. REUTERS/Romeo Ranoco

Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte shows a brochure of the new Glock pistols to be issued to members of the Philippine Army during a visit at the army headquarters in Taguig city, metro Manila, Philippines October 4, 2016. REUTERS/Romeo Ranoco

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte speaks during a news conference in Davao city, southern Philippines August 21, 2016. REUTERS/Lean Daval Jr/File Photo

Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte (C) clenches fist with members of the Philippine Army during his visit at the army headquarters in Taguig city, metro Manila, Philippines October 4, 2016. REUTERS/Romeo Ranoco

Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte gestures while delivering a speech before female police officers during a gathering in Davao city, Philippines, September 30, 2016. Picture taken September 30, 2016. REUTERS/Lean Daval Jr TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY

Philippines’ President Rodrigo Duterte (L) speaks during his meeting with Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc in Hanoi, September 29, 2016. REUTERS/Hoang Dinh Nam/Pool

Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte leaves the opening ceremony of the ASEAN Summit in Vientiane, Laos September 6, 2016. REUTERS/Jorge Silva




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“If you want to protect the rights of criminals, get your budget from the criminals,” he said. “It’s that simple. Why should you get budget from the government and yet you are not doing your job?”

Congressman Edcel Lagman said 32 minority lawmakers opposed the measure during the debate at the second reading. He said Duterte’s supporters were “virtually imposing the death penalty on a constitutionally created and mandated independent office.”

The CHR requested a budget of 1.72 billion pesos for 2018, but the government proposed 678 million.

Congress voted to slash that to just 1,000 pesos, a huge cut from the 2017 budget of 749 million. The budget requires another vote, then Senate approval before it becomes final.

Human rights monitors said the CHR was a vital institution that stands no chance of doing its job without a proper budget.

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Duterte was born on March 28, 1945 in Maasin, Southern Leyte, Philippines.

(PHILIPPINES-DAVAO/MODEL REUTERS/Renato Lumawag)

Duterte became the mayor of Davao City in 1988, where he earned the nickname “The Punisher.” He served as mayor for 20 years, non-consecutively.

(PHILIPPINES-DAVAO/MODEL REUTERS/Renato Lumawag)

Duterte comes from a family of politicians. His father, Vicente Duterte, was the governor of unified Davao and a member of President Ferdinand Marcos’ cabinet. His daughter, Sara Duterte, is currently the mayor of Davao City.

(REUTERS/Erik De Castro)

Rodrigo Duterte was elected the 16th president of the Philippines in May 2016.

(REUTERS/Czar Dancel)

Duterte once compared himself to Adolf Hitler, saying he would kill millions of drug addicts.

(REUTERS/Ezra Acayan)

Duterte has led a violent anti-drug crackdown, and more than 7,000 have reportedly been killed since he has taken office. 

(Photo credit should read NOEL CELIS/AFP/Getty Images)

Duterte called President Barack Obama a “son of a wh**e.” He made the comments after Obama brought up concerns about human rights violations in 2016. Duterte later apologized for the comment.

(Photo credit should read SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)

Weeks before being sworn in as president, Duterte fueled an already hostile environment for journalists when he said, “Just because you’re a journalist you are not exempted from assassination, if you’re a son of a b****.” 

(REUTERS/Romeo Ranoco)

Duterte cursed Pope Francis over traffic that was generated by his visit. 

“We were affected by the traffic,” Duterte said. “It took us five hours. I asked why, they said it was closed. I asked who is coming. They answered, the Pope. I wanted to call him: ‘Pope, son of a wh**e, go home. Do not visit us again’.”

He later apologized. 

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Duterte came under fire in April 2016 after he made a joke about a missionary who was gang raped and murdered during a prison riot in 1989. “But she was so beautiful,” Duterte said. “I thought the mayor should have been first.” 

(REUTERS/Harley Palangchao)

A witness testified in Sept. 2016, claiming he was a member of Duterte’s alleged “Davao Death Squad,” and that the Filipino president gave orders to kill drug dealers, drug users and others who may violate the law. 

(Photo credit should read Ezra Acayan / Barcroft Images / Barcroft Media via Getty Images)

Congressman Gary Alejano filed an impeachment complaint against Duterte in March 2017, claiming he is guilty of crimes against humanity and murder.

(REUTERS/Erik De Castro TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY)




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“CLIMATE OF FEAR”

Phelim Kine, deputy Asia director for Human Rights Watch, said the overwhelming support for the cut was “part of the Duterte administration’s attempt to prevent independent institutions to check its abuses.”

Agnes Callamard, the U.N. Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial killings, said Filipinos deserved a strong, independent rights organization that could hold the state accountable.

“Instead they are getting a ‘war on drugs’ which, by the president’s own account, has failed to curtail addiction rates, while creating a climate of fear and insecurity, feeding impunity, and undermining the constitutional fabrics of the Country,” Callamard posted on her Facebook page.

“If the Philippines Congress is looking for public money being wasted, damaging and hurting the Philippines society, this is it.”

The CHR has long complained it lacks manpower and resources to fully investigate the killings, the majority of which activists say are of users and small-time peddlers, with few high-profile arrests.

Filipinos, however, are largely supportive of the crackdown as a solution to tackling rampant crime, which Duterte says stems from drug addiction.

Critics maintain police are executing suspects, and say the government has what is effectively a kill policy. Duterte has angrily rejected that and police say they kill only in self-defense.

CHR head, Chito Gascon, said the measly budget was an attempt to force his resignation. He said he would take the issue to the Supreme Court if necessary.

“The principal reason why I cannot resign my office is that to do so is to weaken the institution itself,” Gascon said.

“Asking me to resign would lead to essentially making the institution forever at the mercy of politics.” ($1=50.8690 Philippine pesos) (Reporting by Manuel Mogato; Editing by Martin Petty and Alison Williams)

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