Philippine Congress Cuts Human Rights Body's Budget to $20 in 'Chilling' Move

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The UN human rights chief also scored the apparent absence of credible investigations into alleged extrajudicial killings and failure to prosecute any perpetrator.

MALACAÑANG on Tuesday denied that President Rodrigo Duterte issued a shoot-to- kill order against drug suspects following fresh criticisms from the United Nations.

During the budget vote, house speaker and Duterte ally Pantaleon Alvarez criticised the commission, saying it was "useless" and "not doing its job".

The cut to the budget of the Commission on Human Rights was supported by a margin of 119 to 32 in Congress.

If the two chambers differ in their versions of the budget, they need to come together to draft a common version that is then submitted to a vote of the two chambers, before it is signed, or censured by the president.

In a statement, the Commission on Human Rights said it regretted the decision to "undermine our role as a check-and-balance mechanism" which it said it did "without fear or favour, in a non-partisan manner, and as rightfully mandated by the 1987 constitution".

President Rodrigo Duterte has vowed to wipe out drug dealers.

Human rights monitors said the CHR, while severely flawed in terms of executing its duties, was a necessary institution that stands no chance of doing its job without a proper budget. A year ago the commission received $14.7 million and it had asked for $34 million in 2018.

The agency has long complained it lacks manpower and resources to fully investigate the killings.

Thousands have been killed since President Duterte launched the anti-drug crackdown previous year.

CHR head Chito Gascon said the measly budget was an attempt to force his resignation. However, the brutal campaign has maintained the support of many Filipinos exhausted of drug-driven crime in the country.

"The principal reason why I can not resign my office is that to do so is to weaken the institution itself", Gascon said.

"The President has categorically and repeatedly said that there is no shoot-to-kill order".

Popular movements and human rights groups in the country are hoping to step up their protests against Duterte's rights violations, regardless of what happens in the bicameral legislative halls or the presidential palace.

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

Callamard recently described the killing of 17-year-old schoolboy Kian Delos Santos by Manila police as "murder" in a tweet on Aug 25, earning the ire of Duterte who in a separate speech later called her "son of a bitch" and "stupid".

"The vote by an overwhelming majority of the House of Representatives is part of the Duterte administration's attempt to prevent independent institutions to check its abuses, particularly in the context of the brutal drug war", said Phelim Kine, the deputy Asia director for HRW.

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