MANILA, Sept 12, (Agencies): Philippine lawmakers allied with President Rodrigo Duterte on Tuesday voted to allocate an annual budget of just 1,000 pesos ($19.66) to the Commission on Human Rights, a public body investigating Duterte’s bloody war on drugs.
About 119 of the 151 lower house members present supported the move to dramatically cut the budget, in what critics of the anti-drugs campaign call retaliation for the agency’s criticism of Duterte and its efforts to investigate thousands of killings over the past 15 months.
The rights agency deserved a low budget for being a “useless” body and defending criminals’ rights, the speaker of the house of representatives, Pantaleon Alvarez, said in a television interview. Thirty-two minority lawmakers opposed the measure, said Congressman Edcel Lagman, adding that the president’s supporters were “virtually imposing the death penalty on a constitutionally created and mandated independent office”.
The agency requested a budget of 1.72 billion pesos for 2018, but the government proposed 678 million pesos. On the second reading of the legislation, Congress approved that the figure be slashed to just 1,000 pesos, a huge cut from the 2017 budget of 749 million. Though the motion still requires another reading and Senate approval, opponents say it is likely to be passed, as Duterte enjoys a supermajority in the two chambers. The agency has long complained it lacks manpower and resources to fully investigate the killings.
Police have been forced to stop conducting drug surveys and testing in the Philippine capital’s biggest and most populous area after a lawyers’ group representing residents filed a petition before a court, a police chief said on Tuesday. Thousands of residents had been surveyed and a few hundred had been tested in a door-to-door anti-narcotics campaign in two communities in Manila’s Quezon City from May this year, part of President Rodrigo Duterte’s bloody war on drugs. Human rights groups and Duterte’s political opponents have said tests conducted by police amounted to harassment that could endanger the lives of those who tested positive. Activists say large numbers of users have been killed during the anti-drug campaign, often by mysterious gunmen.
At least four people died and six were missing after a major storm caused flooding in and around Manila on Tuesday, forcing schools, government offices and businesses to shut down. A 12-year-old girl who drowned in a rain-swollen river in a Manila suburb and a three-month old baby who was crushed by a landslide southeast of the Philippine capital were among the victims, local officials said. Most of the dead and missing were poor people forced to live in identified “danger zones” despite government warnings of the risks they face during storms.