The House of Representatives skips deliberating on the budget of the Commission on Human Rights for a 2nd time, telling the CHR officials to come back for their budget on the last day of plenary deliberations next week.
The CHR budget was originally scheduled to be tackled by the plenary Wednesday, but a miscommunication led to its deferment to Thursday. Gascon told media, “imbes na pahintayin pa kami hanggang umaga sila umabot sila ng 330 4o clock last night sabi nila irereschedule kami sa Martes. ok naman po dahil ganito talaga ang budget process ang mahalaga binobigyan kami ng pagkakataon haharap kami para idepensa ang budget at umaasa kami na slaita ni speaker nung committee level na izezero kami ay magabago ang kaniyang isip dahil mahalaga ang trabaho namin bilang isang constitutional office at sa dami ng mga nangyayaring human rights violations kailangan makatugon kami at mahirap naman po kung izezero po kami sana di po umabot sa ganun.”
Gascon also said, “30 year old organization na ang CHR dahil doon sanay na kami sa budget process ang masasabi ko parang par for the course ganito talaga ang pruseso ng budget deliebrations nadedefer maraming tanong balik na lang sa ibang araw hindi po namin minamasama na ganito yung pruseso mahalaga lang may pagkakataon na madepensehan ang budget namin sana ay unawain ng mayorya sa pamumuno ni speaker alvarez dahil matimbang ang salita ni speaker alvarez sana ay di naman nila ituloy yung balak nilang zero kami”
After waiting the whole day of Thursday, CHR officials were told on Thursday evening to just come back on Tuesday. Gascon said, “technically today di kami nadefer dahil di kami na call so nangyari deferred yesterday dahil sa miscommunciation we were here the whole day pero nasa malayong holding area by the time na sinabi sa amin pumunta na doon yun pala nakasalang na so ibig sabihin wala kami andoon sila pinaguusapan sinabi defer so nung pinauwi kami sabi nila kagabi balik na lang kayo bukas pero di kami binigyan ng specific schedule or time nag intay lang kami dahil sa heavy agenda today nakita naman natin mahaba ang diskusyon sa PDEA ngayon sa DOH hindi na talaga kami maschedule nanging mabait naman sila sabi sa amin balik na lang sa martes ng hapon kaysa maghintay di naman kami pinapabalik bukas o sa lunes ibig sabihin as i said par for the course sanay naman po kami sa budget process”
The DBM approved a budget of over 651M for 2018 in the budget proposal submitted to Congress, about 1B less than its proposal.
The CHR is led by a Liberal Party stalwart, Chito Gascon, who has been vocally critical of the Duterte Administration’s war on drugs and human rights record. President Duterte’s ally, House Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez, wanted to reduce the CHR’s budget to zero when the CHR pitched its budget to the House Appropriations panel.
sought for his comments, Gascon admitted to media that the prospects of the Speaker reversing his position appear to be bleak. “no assurance because i understand the speaker seems very strong in his conviction or adamant in his na sinabi niya sa kumite na izezero niya kami ay gagawin niya nonetheless ang hope namin cooler heads will prevail that the sentiments of the other members of the House will be taken into account because actually while he says zero kami maraming congressman ang nagsasabi na kulang pa at dapat dagdagan hopefully in the course of a democratic deliberative process that is congress ay mangibabaw kung ano ang nararapat obviously di dapat na mazero ang CHR dahil sa dami ng mga prublema na kinakaharap natins ahuman rights kailangan makarespond kami at kung izezero kami magiging mahirap sa amin magrespond “
Gascon explained a CHR official already met with Alvarez privately yesterday but failted to convince the speaker to reverse himself. “ready kami na humarap sa kaniya kahapon actually si commissioner gwen pimentel gana nagreach out dahil galing siya sa senado kapatid po siya ni senate president humingi ng pulong at binigyan naman ng pagkakataon si comm gwen na harapin siya though ang sinabi kung pwede siya muna in other words di pako nakaharap kay speaker. comm gwen nakausap pinaliwanagan siya subalit sabihin natin report ni comm gwen current position ni speaker alvarez maaring gusto pa niya ituloy yung nasabi niya na bawasan ang aming budget pero may ilang araw pa bago noon. yung sinabi ni speaker na zero though ang understanding ko pag sinabing zero baka di talaga zero tulad ng nangyari nung isang araw.”
Gascon can only hope other congressmen can intervene for them, “asahan namin yung prueso maging makatiwran manaig ang anong dapat at pagkilala ng aming posisyon bilang constitutional body kungdi man mangibabaw pa rin panukalang zezero kami tutugon sana ang senado dahil budget naman both chambers tiwala pa rin kami na kaya pa natin mapaliwanagan si speaker at ibang ansa kongreso para mabalik ang budget natin”
Gascon explained the importance of having a fully funded CHR amid the spate of killings, the latest of which is teenage boys. “of course nung lumabas sa news salamat sa emdia tumulak kami andito nung lumabas sa news at nakapunta ang invetsigation team both central and regional forensics unit na nakausap ang magulang ni kulot itong sunod sunod na namamatay na bata na kailangan matugnan ng alw enforcement mamonitor ng CHR ay isang pang dagdag na argumento kung bakit di napapanahon na zero ang CHR bagkus sifuro dapat pa palakihin pa ang budget para mas makayanan namin na sabayan yung mga kaganapan sa kasalukuyan based on our limuted resources hirap kaming sabayan ang pace and scale ng namamatay dahil mabilis at marami”
Gascon doesnt rule out a pattern to the killings. “yung pagmomonitor namin at pagtingin sa kaso aabot sa yugto na sasabihin namin na maaring may pattern we do not discount that but we also want to give justcie to every single case but the fact in the last year we now have thousands of people dead in the course of the war on drugs and with respect tot hose killed in police operations every single one of them sabi ng police nanlaban and now what is emerging is that what the police say are nalaban in some cases are not tells we have to dig deeper and we have to hold the perpetratros.”
Meanwhile, The House of Representatives terminated on Thursday the plenary deliberation on the P6.8 billion proposed 2018 budget of the newly created Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT).
During the floor debates, House members found out that the DICT had P2.7 billion in unused appropriations in 2016 and P2.695 billion in the first months of 2017.
House Minority Leader Danilo Suarez of Quezon province lauded the agency’s plans to usher in a new era of governance that is focused on using information and communications technology (ICT) as a tool for national development.
Suarez then raised several questions, among them on how to improve the services of telecommunication companies for better reception of cellphones.
Suarez said Smart and Globe, the two major players in the industry, previously admitted in a hearing that it is not economically viable for them to expand operation and installing cell sites because of the low investment return.
“At ang sinasabi ng players, hindi na nila dominated ang market sapagkat marami na ang kalaban katulad ng Viber na ang ginagamit ang airwaves. Bakit ka naman magbabayad pa kung pwede ka rin makipag-usap na hindi mo na kailangan magbayad,” said Suarez.
He said this does not mean that DICT would have to stay in that situation where communication is a failure or inefficient.
“May I know the position of the head of the agency to entice and persuade Smart and Globe to invest further and install more cell sites,” said Suarez.
Rep. Doy Leachon (1st District, Oriental Mindoro) said one of the reasons for poor cell connectivity is the number of cell sites.
By comparison, Leachon said the Philippines has around 16,300 cell sites serving 130 million subscribers compared to the 70,000 cell sites of Vietnam which serve only 95 million subscribers.
“You can just imagine the challenge that we are facing to improve our signals,” said Leachon. He said the DICT is suggesting solutions that are limited to capital expenditures and for a broader scope of coverage.
The first suggestion is the use of tower sharing instead of building individual towers for Globe and Smart. The DICT is now enjoining both companies to share towers, he said.
Second is the issuance of an executive order as some 25 to 30 local government units (LGUs) would need to secure permits to construct single cell sites. It would take eight months to secure a permit for one cell site, he said.
The DICT would request President Rodrigo Duterte to allow a seven day period for the issuance and renewal of permits and licenses in installing telecom and broadcast facilities, said Leachon.
Leachon further said that the DICT is facing another challenge from the different homeowners associations which do not allow cell sites to be installed inside their subdivision.
Meanwhile, Suarez proposed the setting up of a renewal facility satellite office of the Land Transportation Office (LTO) at the South Wing Annex of the House of Representatives for the issuance of professional and student drivers’ permits
Suarez sought an assurance from the DICT on the setting up of the LTO satellite office.
Also The House of Representatives terminated the interpellation on the proposed P34.7 billion budget of the Judiciary for 2018 after discussions on vital issues, including the impeachment complaint against Chief Justice Ma. Lourdes Sereno, unused allocation and case disposal rates of various courts.
Rep. Raul del Mar (1st District, Cebu City), vice chairman of the committee on appropriations, defended the Judiciary budget which is P2 billion higher than its 2017 appropriation of P32.7 billion.
Minority Leader Danilo Suarez (3rd District, Quezon) decried the Judiciary’s low utilization of its budget.
“From 2012 to 2015, their utilization rate is very, very bad. On an average, they had an underutilized of 19 percent per annum,” Suarez lamented. “Itong 2016, there is a dramatic increase or improvement of about 12 percent. And I just would like to find out kung ito ho bang improvement na ito is right after the elections?”
Suarez also inquired about the rate of case disposal of the Judiciary and its target rate for 2018.
Del Mar replied that the increase in the utilization of the Judiciary’s budget began during the first semester of 2016. He said the Supreme Court registered a clearance rate of 95 percent and 107 percent accomplishment rate based on the targets for 2016. Meanwhile, the Court of Appeals (CA) has a 113 percent clearance rate and 96 percent accomplishment rate for the same period.
Del Mar said that for next year, the target of the Supreme Court is 5,840; Court of Appeals, 14,520; Sandiganbayan, 418; Court of Tax Appeals, 352; and Lower Courts, for the second level courts, 194,066, and first level courts, 211 out of 444.
Suarez raised concerns about the tax evasion or tax avoidance cases filed by the Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR) in the Court of Tax Appeals (CTA). He railed that it is a lawyer from the Department of Justice (DOJ) who litigates the case in the CTA instead of a lawyer from the BIR which initiated and therefore more knowledgeable about the case.
Suarez decried the reduction in the budget of the CTA, stressing that the collection matter is very sensitive.
He likewise lamented the decrease in the allocation of the Sandiganbayan, from P660 million to P556 million.
Suarez pointed out that the Sandiganbayan has a high record of cases disposed during the first half of 2017, with 442 cases. It had 371 cases disposed in 2016, rendering a disposal rate of 74 cases per month.
“They (Sandiganbayan) have a good performance, then why are you reducing the budget?” Suarez said.
Del Mar clarified that there was an increase in the budget of the CTA, from P324 million in 2017 to P599 million in 2018, registering an 85 percent increase.
On the budget of the Sandiganbayan, Del Mar said the reduction is the result of the lack of budget for the recurring item.
Suarez mentioned the impeachment complaint filed by lawyer Larry Gadon against Chief Justice Ma. Lourdes Sereno allegedly for betrayal of public trust over the whimsical and expensive purchase of a latest model of Toyota Land Cruiser worth P5.1 million and its bullet-proofing.
Del Mar said what the Minority Leader said is also what he read in the papers. However, he said he has no knowledge or information on Sereno’s reply on the complaint filed against her.
“She has not submitted a reply because the complaint has not been submitted to the House committee on justice. Even we, members, have not been given a copy of the complaint as it has not yet been referred to the justice committee,” Del Mar explained.
Suarez asked if there was an intention on the part of the Supreme Court to purchase a Toyota Land Cruiser bulletproof.
Del Mar replied that it is quite difficult to make a comment as it is one of the allegations in the impeachment complaint against the Chief Justice.
“The (AFP) Chief of Staff, the Chief of PNP, for their safety, can buy a bullet-proof vehicle… The sensitivity of the position of the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court is clearly understood. If it is within your budget and you can buy vehicle for that purpose, I don’t see anything wrong with that,” Suarez said.
“The question is that some people made some malicious reasons. They say it’s whimsical or abuse of authority,” Suarez further said.
Del Mar emphasized that at the proper time, details of the case will be revealed.
Del Mar also refused to comment on the other issues raised by Suarez relative to the impeachment complaint filed against Sereno.
Suarez moved to terminate the interpellation on the budget of the Judicary, which was seconded by the members of the Majority.
Deputy Speaker Sharon Garin of Party-list AAMBIS-OWA presided at the budget hearing of the Judiciary.
Before that, Members of the House of Representatives took the plenary deliberation on the proposed 2018 budget of the Department of Justice (DOJ) of P17.28 billion as an opportunity to raise various issues and concerns under the jurisdiction of the DOJ, among them the recovery of the Marcoses’ ill-gotten wealth, violence against women and children, and the validity of the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) clearance.
Rep. Doy Leachon (1st District, Oriental Mindoro), vice chairman of the House committee on appropriations, sponsored and defended the proposed budget of the DOJ which is 10.9 percent higher than this year’s budget of P15.58 billion.
Rep. Carlos Isagani Zarate (Party-list, Bayan Muna) questioned Leachon about the DOJ position on reports that criminal immunity will be given to the Marcoses if their ill-gotten wealth is returned to the Philippine government.
“Sa usapin na pagsasauli ng nakaw na yaman ng mga Marcoses, kahapon may balita na bibigyan sila ng immunity. Ano po ang posisyon ng DOJ dito? Per Executive Order No. 1, ang may pangunahin na poder para habulin ang mga nakaw na yaman ng mga Marcoses ay nasa poder pa rin ng Presidential Commission on Good Government (PCGG), malinaw yan sa EO 1,” said Zarate.
Leachon said that the DOJ will not allow that as such will be tantamount to condonation.
“And that is unwarranted definitely, under their circumstances. It will be up to the government. As of now it is premature to talk about it considering that there is no law giving immunity to those persons involved in ill- gotten wealth,” said Leachon.
Leachon further said that if the PCGG has the ways to recover the Marcoses ill-gotten wealth, then it can do so within its jurisdiction and authority.
Another issue raised by Zarate is the backlog of cases at the DOJ, which is 4,000 cases compared to 12,000 cases during the past administration. He proposed that the DOJ hire more prosecutors to hasten resolution of the cases.
Leachon said there are about 1,400 unfilled positions of prosecutors at the DOJ, and most of these are carryover from the past administrations. While the salaries of prosecutors are higher now, still the vacancy issue is a problem for the DOJ, he said.
Under the present administration of Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II, he said the DOJ has recommended to the Office of the President for signing the appointment papers of 400 prosecutors who were selected from among many applicants.
Meanwhile, Rep. Antonio Tinio (Party-list, ACT TEACHERS) asked if there is an active roster of DOJ prosecutors in every city, province or region in the country who shall be available on an on-call basis to serve as team leaders in the investigation and building of cases covered by AO 35. It is important that the public is informed that there are prosecutors assigned to investigate cases covered by AO 35, he said.
Leachon assured Tinio there is an active roster of prosecutors to investigate cases covered by AO 35. He promised to give Tinio a list of the assigned prosecutors.
Rep. Emmi de Jesus (Party-list, Gabriela) asked about the number of cases involving violence against women and children (VAWC) which is prohibited under Republic Act 9262.
The law defines violence against women and their children, provides for protective measures for victims, and prescribes penalties for violators.
Leachon said in relation to VAWC, there are about 27,000 cases nationwide, with the following breakdown: violation of child protection covered by VAWC, 10, 457; violation against women 10, 300; and rape cases, 7,000.
De Jesus said the figures show that there are victims of VAWC who really file cases. “Talaga pong may dumudulog dahil karamihan ay naisasantabi o nagkakaaregluhan,” she said.
She asked how many petitions for review of VAWC cases were filed at the DOJ. De Jesus said many of these petitions were previously referred to the Gabriela national office.
Leachon promised to provide De Jesus with the necessary information about the petitions for review.
Meanwhile, Rep. France Castro (ACT TEACHERS) asked why the validity of the NBI clearance was cut from one year to six months. She cited the hardship encountered by applicants in getting their NBI clearance.
“Sinasabi po ng mga applicants ng NBI clearance bakit po ang time frame ng validity naging six months? Alam po ba ninyo kung gaano kahaba ang pinipila ng ating mamamayan sa pagkuha nito? Nakita ko yan sa iba’t ibang mall na kung saan may NBI clearance hall tayo,” said Castro.
Leachon, however, clarified that according to the NBI Director himself, the validity of the NBI clearance is one year. He also relayed the NBI commitment to release the NBI clearance within 10 minutes from the time of its application.
The House plenary has extended to Tuesday its original self imposed deadline to finish budget deliberations.