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Fiscal autonomy for CHR

Manila Standard

If there’s an agency that deserves an expanded mandate and hence a bigger budget because of its Constitutional duties, it’s the Commission on Human Rights.

The 1987 Constitution vests the CHR with the power to “investigate, on its own or on complaint by any party, all forms of human rights violations involving civil and political rights”.

The agency is also tasked to “provide appropriate legal measures for the protection of human rights of all persons within the Philippines, as well as Filipinos residing abroad, and provide for preventive measures and legal aid services to the underprivileged whose human rights have been violated or need protection.”

That part about its purely investigative function is problematic, because its findings can be totally ignored by those agencies with prosecutorial power.

Its capability to establish legal measures to protect the human rights of all citizens is circumscribed as well by its lack of fiscal autonomy that would insulate it from politics and protect its budget

The House of Representatives is, therefore, on the right track in tackling a proposed measure aimed at strengthening the CHR role as an independent human rights institution.

House Bill 9790 authored by Speaker Martin Romualdez seeks “full fiscal autonomy for the CHR to ensure prompt, immediate and unrestricted” fulfillment of its functions.

Other Constitutionally-constituted bodies, such as the Commission on Elections and Office of the Ombudsman, enjoy fiscal autonomy that prevents a reduction of funds or even defunding.

Under the previous administration, lawmakers tried to strip the CHR of its budget because of its objections to the bloody war on drugs.

The Supreme Court ruled in 2006 the Constitution provided fiscal autonomy only to three Constitutional commissions: the Civil Service Commission, Commission on Audit and Comelec.

The High Tribunal said the judiciary and the Office of the Ombudsman also enjoy fiscal autonomy but the CHR was only granted limited autonomy and could not be considered a “Constitutional commission” although it was created by the 1987 charter.

We understand that lawmakers and CHR officials are now looking at an independent Charter to remedy the situation and even expand the agency’s powers that are now purely investigative and recommendatory.

As pointed out by human right advocates, the CHR should be truly independent and enjoy fiscal autonomy so it can perform its duties well.

With both the Department of Budget and Management and Department of Justice said to be supportive of the House bill but asking for more time to study the matter, we may yet see the CHR really transform into an agency with more bite than bark.

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