Lawmakers in the Philippines have cut the budget of the country’s human rights commission to just $20 a year, amid an increasingly violent war between authorities and drug traffickers instigated by President Rodrigo Duterte.
The commission was tasked with investigating alleged human rights abuses on behalf of country’s security forces in the war against drug trafficking and Islamic State, with over 3,800 people dying as a result of police operations or vigilante attacks.
Despite the commission requesting a budget of around $35 million, Congress instead passed a motion to cut it to $20 a year by a margin of 119 to 32, with Speaker of the House Pantaleon Alvarez describing the commission as “useless.”
“If you want to protect the rights of criminals, get your budget from the criminals,” Alvarez said on national television. “Why should you get a budget from the government and yet you are not doing your job?”
Meanwhile, opposition politician Edcel Lagman claimed that proponents of the cut were “virtually imposing the death penalty on a constitutionally created and mandated independent office.”
Duterte has become a controversial figure since his election last year and is accused of a series of human rights abuses as part of his crackdown on drug trafficking and the Islamic State.
Last year, he told a group of business leaders, who had gathered to hear more on his economic policy, that his presidency would be a “bloody” one, issuing “thousands of pardons a day” to police officers involved in key operations and also vowed to pardon himself for mass murder at the end of his term.
In May, the government came under the scrutiny of the UN Human Rights Council, with Senator and Duterte ally Alan Cayetano denying any wrongdoing.
“There is no new wave of killings in the Philippines, just a political tactic of changing definitions,” Cayetano said. “Make no mistake, any death or killing is one too much. However, there is a deliberate attempt to include all homicides as EJKs (extra-judicial killings) or killings related to the campaign against criminality and illegal drugs, and that these are state-sponsored, which is simply not true.”
“The government’s denial and deflection of criticism shows it has no intention of complying with its international obligations,” John Fisher, Geneva director at Human Rights Watch, said after the summit.
Meanwhile, Phelim Kine, deputy Asia director for Human Rights Watch, told ABC that the commission was a vital for protecting human rights following the fall of former dictator Ferdinand Marcos.
“[It] has this very symbolic and very important agency that is tasked with protecting the civil and vocal rights of Filipinos, to ensure that the types of grotesque abuses that occurred under the Marcos’ don’t repeat,” he said. “The fact that pro-Duterte lawmakers are looking to eviscerate it as a functioning body is extremely worrying, given the extent of this human rights calamity that Duterte has inflicted on the Philippines as part of this so-called war on drugs.”