Wrong signal

Posted 6 years ago

Before the budget of the Commission on Human Rights was slashed to a mere P1,000 by the House of Representatives, the CHR faced only a 10-percent cut (to P649.48 million), as the Department of Budget and Management had proposed.

Commission on Human Rights

But then the House leadership threatened to defund the commission with a “zero budget,” and later settled for P1,000, for questioning the killing of thousands under the administration’s war on drugs.
It is, of course, just the House leadership sending a statement, no matter how eyebrow-raising, since the Senate normally restores an affected agency’s actual budget.

Such goings-on in the House will not simply be dismissed, like many of its televised public hearings in aid of legislation. This case involving human rights and the CHR is particularly important and is of major interest even among other countries and foreign investors.

The European Chamber of Commerce of the Philippines (ECCP) has already raised concerns on the political stability of the country, capped by the substantial downsizing of the 2018 budget for the CHR.
ECCP president Guenter Taus pointed out that such incidents were not sending the right signals to foreign investors and that the national government needed to look into long-term solutions to make the country look attractive to new investors who might want to set up shop here. As it is, he said, inviting new investments from overseas was “becoming more and more difficult.”

This was the first time that the ECCP had spoken up against the downsized budget of the CHR, a move that has earned backlash from local groups and the international community.
The ECCP had earlier warned the government that investors were seeing the Philippines differently from outside looking in, citing how the country was being portrayed negatively by foreign media for its dismal record on human rights protection.

This was in connection with the deaths of innocent people and even teenagers in the hands of policemen who were supposed to be their protectors, as well as the failure of the police to protect civilians from roaming vigilante groups killing suspected drug pushers and users.

This is not all talk. Official data bear witness to this.
Investment pledges made by foreign firms have been declining during the past four quarters — or the first full year of the Duterte administration.

Foreign investment applications approved by seven investment promotion agencies (IPAs) fell 45 percent to P26.7 billion in the third quarter of 2016.
Approved foreign investments declined 9.3 percent year-on-year to P125.7 billion in the fourth quarter of last year.
This was followed by a drop of 12.8 percent year-on-year to P22.9 billion in the first quarter of 2017.

Last week, the Philippine Statistics Authority said foreign investments from April to June this year slumped by 55 percent to P18.2 billion from P40.4 billion in the same three-month period last year.
The PSA data consisted of approvals made by the Authority of the Freeport Area of Bataan, Board of Investments, BOI-Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, Cagayan Economic Zone Authority, Clark Development Corp., Philippine Economic Zone Authority and Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority. These IPAs give away fiscal and nonfiscal incentives to investors.

While the foreign business community is all praise for the administration’s economic team led by Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez III, the same cannot be said for the other branches of the government, particularly the legislature.

Congress cannot use its power of the purse to make any official or agency of the government kowtow to the administration. If it continues to do to the government’s critics what it did to the CHR, the quality of our lawmakers becomes suspect.

This is especially true for members of the House who seemed to have voted the way they did simply out of fear of losing the benefits that go with being part of the ruling majority. They should stop sending the wrong signal to foreign investors that only bolsters fears of political uncertainty.


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