Thu, Sep 14, 2017 - Page 5 News List

Philippine House votes to defund rights agency

CHECKS AND BALANCES:The commission, established by the constitution to check the power of the executive branch, has been probing killings by police in a drug war

AFP, MANILA

Philippine lawmakers have voted to slash annual funding for the nation’s human rights commission to just US$20 in response to its investigations into Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte’s deadly drug war, authorities said yesterday.

The move by the Philippine House of Representatives is the latest part of what critics have said is a campaign by Duterte and his allies to silence opposition to the crackdown, which has claimed thousands of lives and led rights groups to warn of a crime against humanity.

The House, one of two chambers of the Philippine Congress, cut the Philippine Commission on Human Rights’ allotment to 1,000 pesos (US$19.63) in the 3.8 trillion peso national budget bill that it passed in a second reading late on Tuesday.

“This leads us on a direct path to dictatorship,” Philippine Senator Francis Pangilinan, leader of the Liberal Party, the country’s main opposition group, said in a statement yesterday.

The commission is one of several independent government bodies set up by the Philippine constitution to check the power of the executive branch, which controls the country’s police and military forces.

The body has been investigating some of the deaths of more than 3,800 narcotics suspects killed by police and other drug enforcement agencies in what they have described as “legitimate” operations.

The drug crackdown has triggered wider violence, with thousands of other people having been killed in unexplained circumstances.

Rights groups have accused authorities of running vigilante death squads, which the government has denied.

The budget bill has to be passed separately by the Philippine Senate, and Pangilinan vowed to block the House version.

“We will not allow this to pass in the Senate, even if this means the 2018 budget will not be passed,” Pangilinan said.

Independent Senator Panfilo Lacson, a former Philippine police chief, told DZMM radio in an interview that the Senate version of the budget bill had recommended 678 million pesos for the rights body.

If the Senate and House pass differing versions of a bill, the two bodies meet to write a final version that will then be ratified by both chambers and signed into law or vetoed by the Philippine president.

Duterte has vowed to kill tens of thousands of criminals to rid the country of illegal drugs and has said he would not allow any soldier or police officer to go to prison for helping him prosecute the campaign.

The drug war remains popular with the public, who are fed up by high crime, independent polls have shown, and critics have faced the wrath of Duterte supporters.

One of its top critics, Senator Leila de Lima of the Liberal Party, was arrested early this year and charged with abetting the illegal drug trade while serving as secretary of justice.

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