“We fully support the stand of (some) legislators and urge both chambers of Congress to increase rather than slash the CHR budget for next year”
After the resignation of lawyer Victor Rodriguez as Executive Secretary last week, the talk of the town is who will take his place.
Retired Supreme Court Chief Justice Lucas Bersamin is rumored to be President ‘Bongbong’ Marcos Jr.’s choice, but if he’s going to be the next ‘Little President’ that’s likely to be confirmed after BBM’s state visit to the US.
Rodriguez’s resignation was not unexpected. He was even scheduled to face the Commission on Appointments this week.
But he had been in the news lately because of his role in the issuance of the controversial Sugar Order 4 (SO 4) of the Sugar Regulatory Agency that approved the importation of 300,000 metric tons of sugar in response to the shortage of the commodity in local markers.
The order was purportedly approved and signed by President Marcos Jr. himself as concurrent Agriculture Secretary, but has since been found to have been merely signed ‘in the name of the President’ and therefore invalid.
Rodriguez appeared before the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee hearing on the issue twice to explain his side and to clear his name of any wrongdoing.
The Blue Ribbon Committee finished its probe of the controversial order after three hearings and charged four officials of the Agriculture department and the SRA with violations of the Anti-Graft Law, but cleared Rodriguez of any shenanigans related to the sugar import order.
We all thought that Rodriguez enjoyed the full trust and confidence of the president as he was the latter’s legal counsel and spokesperson in the course of the electoral protest against Leni Robredo’s victory in the 2016 vice-presidential election as well as during the 2022 presidential campaign.
Hence, given their longstanding professional relationship, Rodriguez was among the first to be appointed to the Cabinet.
The position of Executive Secretary is a highly coveted one since it makes him ‘primus inter pares’ or first among equals in the Cabinet.
As such, he enjoys direct access to the President’s ear. The Executive Secretary is also called the “Little President” since he takes care of the nitty-gritty in Malacañang Palace, with documents for the President’s approval passing through his office.
We understand that Rodriguez will be transferred to a new position, the Office of the Presidential Chief of Staff, which will be supervised by the Office of the President.
The OPCOS shall have the primary function of supervising and ensuring the efficient and responsive day-to-day operational support to the presidency to enable the President to focus on strategic national concerns.
Rodriguez will still enjoy the rank of a Cabinet member. But his office will have well-defined functions as news reports indicate that it was Chief Presidential Legal Counsel Juan Ponce Enrile who thumbed down his proposal to be the “presidential strategist, policy adviser, presidential advocate,” among others. Hmmm.
Let’s see how things develop from hereon.
Higher budget for CHR
We’re concerned that the proposed national budget for next year includes a big cut in the budget of the Commission on Human Rights.
The agency proposed a budget of P1.6 billion for 2023, but the Department of Budget and Management slashed this by nearly half to a measly P846 million.
What the budget cut means is that the DBM does not appreciate the important work that the CHR does, as spelled out in the fundamental law.
The 1987 Constitution, in fact, directs the State to guarantee “full respect for human rights” and for the CHR to “investigate, or its own or on complaint by any party, all forms of rights violations involving civil and political rights” and to put in place legal measures for the protection of human rights of Filipinos.
We’re glad, however, that some members of the House of Representatives are taking up the cudgels for the CHR and urging support for its proposed P1.6 billion budget for next year.
Negros Oriental Rep. Jocelyn Limkaichong has warned that the agency’s regular operations and many of its programs would suffer if given a paltry budget of P846 million.
For his part, Cagayan de Oro Rep. Rufus Rodriguez, laments that “every year the CHR is always neglected and not given the proper tools to implement its constitutional mandate” and the agency faces a budget cut at a time when the entire country’s budget has increased by 5 percent.
Other lawmakers, including Marikina Rep. Stella Quimbo, Albay Rep. Edcel Lagman, Kabataan Rep. Raoul Manuel, Gabriela Rep. Arlene Brosas, ACT Teachers Rep. France Castro and AKO Bicol Rep. Jil Bongalon also support a bigger CHR purse.
We fully support the stand of these legislators and urge both chambers of Congress to increase rather than slash the CHR budget for next year.