Philippine Congress agrees to restore rights commission budget from $20

MANILA (Reuters) - The Philippines’ Congress lower house agreed on Wednesday to restore the Commission on Human Rights’ annual budget, which had been slashed to just $20 after lawmakers allied to President Rodrigo Duterte accused it of only investigating government abuses.

The head of the house appropriations panel, Karlo Nograles, said the CHR has promised lawmakers to expand its role by looking into rights violations by criminals and rebel groups.

The 294-member Congress will still have to confirm the restoration of CHR’s 678 million pesos ($13 million) budget for 2018 in the third and final reading of the appropriations bill next week, Nograles said in a statement.

Nograles, a close ally and relative of Duterte, said the decision to restore the budget and that of two other agencies was made after a “frank but cordial” meeting between House Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez and CHR head Chito Gascon.

“The Duterte government is not the enemy. We are one with the CHR in the fight against all forms of human rights violation but they must start looking also at the violations committed by criminals and insurgents,” he added.

Duterte has faced crticism from human rights groups for his war on drugs in which more than 3,800 people have been killed in police operations in the past 15 months. Police reject allegations that they are executing suspected users and dealers.

Reporting By Manuel Mogat; Editing by Angus MacSwan