Human Rights Watch (HRW) has raised alarm over recent threats by members of the Philippine Congress to defund the Commission on Human Rights (CHR), citing concerns that such actions could undermine the commission’s ability to protect reproductive rights.
“The Philippines Commission on Human Rights can’t properly function to protect human rights when legislators are threatening its existence,” said Bryony Lau, Deputy Asia Director of HRW.
Lawmakers have specifically targeted the CHR’s support for abortion rights, putting at risk not only its efforts in this domain but its broader mission to safeguard human rights across the country, according to HRW.
During deliberations on the national budget in the week of November 13, 2023, members of the Philippine Senate and House of Representatives expressed their intention to eliminate funding for the CHR.
HRW issued a statement in response to reported comments by Senator Jinggoy Estrada, who allegedly threatened to allocate a “zero budget” to the Commission unless it takes a definitive stance against abortion.
Senator Estrada’s remarks came after Jacqueline de Guia, the executive director of CHR, expressed support for legislation aimed at decriminalizing abortion.
In response, the CHR Chairperson, Richard Palpal-latoc, reversed the commission’s position on abortion rights on November 15, declaring that the CHR is now “against abortion, save for extreme circumstances.”
Lau said the government, including the human rights body, “has responsibilities to ensure that women and girls can exercise bodily autonomy and access safe abortions as part of their basic human rights.”
Women’s rights advocates in the Philippines have been pushing for the decriminalization of abortion, citing studies that reveal the risks women face when forced to undergo clandestine and unsafe procedures.
However, conservative groups, including the Roman Catholic Church, have resisted such initiatives, and Congress has not acted on a proposed bill to decriminalize abortion.