CHR seeks higher 2022 budget: 'So we can do more to protect human rights'

The Commission on Human Rights' (CHR) appealed to lawmakers Thursday, September 16, for an increased budget in 2022.

Commission on Human Rights

CHR chairperson Jose Luis Martin "Chito" Gascon that while the constitutional body was given an increase in its funds for the salaries of its personnel, the reduction in its operating expenses could affect its programs for keeping abuses and human rights violations in check.

Under the National Expenditure Program, the CHR was allocated a P867.25-million budget for 2022, which was slightly higher than its P860.86-million budget for this year.

In the presentation before the House Committee on Appropriations, however, the CHR's maintenance and other operating expenses (MOOE) was slashed by over P8.62 million, while it capital outlay was given no budget.

"Please take a look at this, so at the very least, maintain us at the current level...or even better, to augment further so we can do more," Gascon asked the members of House panel in the hearing.

Gascon said that a "critical" item in their budget is the provision of protection and support for victims and witnesses of human rights violations.

"The continuing support that is necessary for witness protection and preservation evidence by securing critical witnesses," he said.

The CHR has been working with the Department of Justice and some church groups to provide sanctuary to key witnesses in cases that they are investigating. The commission also raised its financial assistance for victims from a meager P3,000 to a maximum of P20,000, he added.

Gascon also admitted that their lack of investigators, triggered by inadequate benefits and better opportunities in other government agencies, has also affected their handling of cases.

"We have a little over a hundred investigators that needs to investigate cases invovling the police, which is over 200,000 around the country, involving the Armed Forces," he said.

"We are trying to fill up all of our plantilla positions...Pero kalaban po namin 'yong iba pang ahensya na may open items din for investigators (But we are in competition with other agencies that have open items for investigators)," he lamented.

The CHR currently has a total of 151 investigators and is hoping to hire 52 more. The constitutional body is also looking for 36 lawyers to add to its 109 lawyers at present.

"In trying to keep up, make sure that we hold our personnel, that's where the benefits come in, you know, ensuring that the morale is high, but of course we will never prevent people to move forward in their careers. We encourage them to advance, but naghahabol po kami palagi (we always have to catch up)," he lamented.

The CHR initially requested for a total budget of P1.6 billion from the Department of Budget and Management (DBM).

ACT Teachers Party List Rep. France Castro, Kabataan Party List Rep. Sarah Elago, Kabayan Party List Rep. Ron Salo, and Quezon City 3rd District Rep. Allan Reyes supported the CHR in its request for additional funds.

"This challenging situation highlights the need to heed the call of the CHR...Hindi nga po dapat sila humihirit, kundi dapat tayo na po ang magbigay ng garantiya na hindi lang maibigay 'yong kinakailangan nila para magampanan 'yong kanilang susing papel bilang isang pambansang nagtitiyak ng pagrespeto at pagprotekta sa karapatang pantao (They shouldn't be pleading for funds, we should be taking the initiative to guarantee that they can continue their important role as a national watchdog for respecting and protecting human rights)," Elago asked the House appropriations panel.