MANILA, Philippines – A two-star general was put on a hot seat after critics questioned her qualifications as the newly appointed chairperson of a compensation board tasked to determine who were victims of Martial Law that deserve compensation.
This came after President Benigno Aquino III appointed police general Lina Castillo-Sarmiento to head the Martial Law Victims Claims Board.
Lawmakers and human rights groups expressed dismay over the President’s appointment of Sarmiento and vowed to seek intervention from the Supreme Court to reverse the Palace decision.
Senator Joker Arroyo appealed to Aquino in his open letter to the broadsheet Philippine Daily Inquirer to re-examine the basis for the appointment of Sarmiento.
Arroyo said Sarmiento’s track record on human rights today does not qualify her to the position as she was never involved in human rights advocacy during the Martial Law years.
“The appointment of a general from the uniformed services to preside as chair over the adjudication of the claims for reparation and recognition of the human rights victims is a stinging repudiation of our 15 years of struggle for freedom and democracy, which culminated in the national incandescence at EDSA,” the elder lawmaker stated.
According to Bayan Muna partylist Rep. Neri Colmenares, the appointment of Sarmiento as claims board chair is a violation of the criteria that a member of the compensation board should have a “clear commitment on human rights protection and promotion.”
Colmenares said that under former President Gloria Arroyo, Sarmiento headed the Philippine National Police-Human Rights Affairs Office (PNP-HRAO).
“General Sarmiento openly defended former President Gloria Arroyo from charges of human rights violations and extra judicial killings, practically tolerating the human rights record of the Arroyo regime,” he stressed.
Republic Act 10368, also known as the Human Rights Victims’ Reparation and Recognition Act of 2013, requires the members of the Human Rights Victims’ Claims Board to possess the following qualifications:
- Must be of known probity, competence and integrity;
- Must have a deep and thorough understanding and knowledge of human rights and involvement in efforts against human rights violations committed during the regime of former President Ferdinand E. Marcos
- Must have a clear and adequate understanding and commitment to human rights protection, promotion and advocacy.
Meanwhile, former Bayan Muna Rep. Satur Ocampo and members of the Samahan ng mga Ex-Detainees Laban sa Detensyon at Aresto (SELDA) filed a petition for certiorari before the Supreme Court to ask the high court to nullify Sarmiento’s appointment.
According to the petition, “human rights victims are not beggars and are not concerned merely with seeking compensation for themselves for past and continuing atrocities.”
“Compensation is a component of justice. Re-writing the history of human rights violations during the martial law regime is the bigger picture. By appointing a former police general to head the Human Rights Claims Board, the President is practically exonerating the entire system that perpetrated the abuses, justified their occurrence, and concealed them with a veneer of impunity,” it added.
Senator Arroyo, Colmenares and Ocampo are among those who experienced torture and detention by the Philippine Army and Philippine Constabulary, where Sarmiento was a member.
“We want to mark it in our history that never again shall we allow perpetrators of human rights violations go unpunished. Letting a Martial Law relic head the Human Rights Victims Claims Board is a betrayal of that purpose,” Ocampo stated.
According to SELDA, there are about 10, 000 victims of human rights violations under the regime of former President Ferdinand Marcos.
RA 10368 was signed into law by President Aquino on February 2013 on the occasion of the anniversary of the historic People Power uprising that ousted the dictator president.
President Benigno Aquino III made an egregious mistake two weeks ago when he appointed a recently retired police general, Lina Castillo Sarmiento, to chair the Human Rights Victims’ Claims Board. He has since defended the appointment, offering a cluster of reasons why Sarmiento was right for the job. Sarmiento has also asked her critics to give her a chance at proving them wrong. But the appointment remains a mistake. If the President is loath to change his mind, it is up to Sarmiento to provide the urgent, necessary remedy: She should resign.
The appointment is wrong on several levels.
First, the landmark measure providing for reparation and recognition of the martial law regime’s many human rights victims, Republic Act No. 10368, became law last year; it took Malacañang 12 months to form the claims board. Given the lateness of the hour, the President owed it to the victims and their families to do everything right, not to present them with yet another problem.
Second, placing a career official from the Philippine National Police (formerly the Philippine Constabulary/Integrated National Police) at the head of the claims board sends the wrong signals, to both victim and victimizer. The PC/INP was notorious for human rights abuses. Even if Sarmiento can claim, as she has already claimed, that she has never been accused of any human rights violation throughout her career, the simple fact is she achieved career success in an institution with a record of human rights violations.
Third, and most important: RA 10368 lists four specific qualifications that members of the claims board should possess, and Sarmiento fails the most crucial one. Section 8 reads: “There is hereby created an independent and quasi-judicial body to be known as the Human Rights Victims’ Claims Board … It shall be composed of nine (9) members, who shall possess the following qualifications …. (b) Must have a deep and thorough understanding and knowledge of human rights and involvement in efforts against human rights violations committed during the regime of former President Ferdinand E. Marcos.”
That second phrase says it all: Sarmiento, who joined the police force in 1980, at the height (or the depths) of military rule, cannot claim “involvement in efforts against human rights violations” committed at that time. She may have risen to the rank of director, the equivalent of major general, and headed the PNP Human Rights Affairs Office late in her career, but there is no showing that, during the Marcos years, when she was still new in the force, she was fighting back against human rights violations.
We wish to be clear: We are not suggesting that Sarmiento was a violator, only that there is no evidence that she was involved in “efforts against” human rights violations then.
If there were evidence, the President would surely have adverted to it. But in defending Sarmiento’s appointment, he offered only a curious cocktail of reasons: she had the “necessary physical ability to be able to complete the job in two years,” the maturity “to fend off those who would want to sabotage what this law intends to do,” the experience of handling human rights issues and the support of officials of the Department of Justice and the Commission on Human Rights. “So, she has the skill, she has the physical energy, she has the drive, she has the right direction to be able to accomplish the job in two years or less,” he said. Maybe, but she still does not meet the requirement clearly spelled out in Section 8 (b).
Other members of the board have a better claim to the chairmanship under the President’s criteria; he could have named former Constitutional Commissioner Jose Luis Martin Gascon, for instance, and there would have been no controversy. This suggests that perhaps the real reason the President named Sarmiento lies in that notion of sabotage: that she could “fend off those who would want to sabotage what this law intends to do.”
But who is the President referring to? There were fears heard during the long struggle to pass the law that victims associated with or sympathetic to the National Democratic Front would use the reparation money to suspicious ends. This seems to us unlikely; it also raises the question of presidential limits: Why does the President have a say in how the money will be used? But all these complications obscure the new fact: The controversy over Sarmiento’s appointment amounts to a kind of sabotage, too.
If Sarmiento has the victims’ interest at heart, she should do the honorable thing and resign.
MANILA, Philippines — (UPDATE – 3:35 p.m.) Victims of human rights abuses committed by the Marcos dictatorship marked the 28th anniversary of the 1986 People Power uprising by asking the Supreme Court to nullify the appointment of retired police general Lina Sarmiento to head the Human Rights Victims Claims Board.
Among the petitioners were former Bayan Muna Representative Satur Ocampo, Neri Colmenares, the incumbent representative of the party-list group, Bagong Alyansang Makabayan chair Carlo Araullo, Trinidad Repuno, Tita Lubi and Josephine Dongail, all of them among the close to 10,000 human rights abuse victims awaiting recognition under Republic Act 10368, or the Human Rights Victims Reparation and Recognition Act of 2013.
Many quarters have protested the appointment of Sarmiento, calling it a travesty of the law’s intent and an insult to the dictatorship’s victims.
Among those who have voiced their opposition are former Senators Rene Saguisag and Joker Arroyo, both prominent human rights lawyers who defended the victims of the dictatorship.
In a statement, the Samahan ng Ex-detainees Laban sa Detensyon at Aresto said RA 10368 mandates that members of the Human Rights Victims Claims Board possess the following qualifications:
- must be of known probity, competence and integrity
- must have a deep and thorough understanding and knowledge of human rights and involvement in efforts against human rights violations committed during the regime of former President Ferdinand E. Marcos
- must have a clear and adequate understanding and commitment to human rights protection, promotion and advocacy
“We want to mark it in our history that never again shall we allow perpetrators of human rights violations (to) go unpunished. Letting a Martial Law relic head the Human Rights Victims Claims Board is a betrayal of that purpose. We shall exhaust any legal remedy available so that justice may be served,” Ocampo said in the statement.
The petition for certiorari he and the others filed says: “It is more than an issue of trust between the Human Rights Claims Board and the human rights victims. It is greater than ensuring confidence in the system supposedly envisioned to bring about justice. It is beyond the integrity of the process of arriving at the compensation to be awarded and the standards to be used in determining compensability and linking it to the rightful beneficiaries. The sum total of these values, though important, does not adequately address the issue against appointing a former police general to head the Human Rights Claims Board.”
“The human rights victims are not beggars and are not concerned merely with seeking compensation for themselves for past and continuing atrocities,” it added. “Compensation is a component of justice. Rewriting the history of human rights violations during the martial law regime is the bigger picture.”
“By appointing a former police general to head the Human Rights Claims Board, the President is practically exonerating the entire system that perpetrated the abuses, justified their occurrence, and concealed them with a veneer of impunity,” the petition said.
The petitioners are represented by lawyers Edre Olalia, Julian Oliva, Ephraim Cortez and Minerva Lopez of the National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers.
Despite the criticism of Sarmiento’s appointment, President Benigno Aquino III defended his choice, citing the retired general’s age and experience.
He also said Sarmiento would be able to “fend off those who want to sabotage” the law.
But Cristina Palabay, secretary general of the human rights organization Karapatan, described Aquino’s defense of Sarmiento as “lame … as lame as his understanding of the very essence of the law that he is supposed to implement.”
“By appointing Sarmiento, Aquino appears as the primary saboteur of the intent of the law to provide justice and reparations to Martial Law victims,” she said.
MANILA, Philippines — A group of human rights victims during the time of former President Ferdinand Marcos asked the Supreme Court to stop the appointment of retired General Lina Sarmiento as head of the Human Rights Claims Board.
In a petition filed Tuesday, they urged the high court to nullify Sarmiento’s appointment.
Petitioners represented by the National Union of People’s Lawyers include former lawmaker Satur Ocampo, Bayan Muna Representative Neri Javier Colmenares, Maria Carolina Araullo, Trinidad Repuno, Tita Lubi, and Josephine Dongail. They were all arrested, detained and tortured during the Martial Law years.
They said President Benigno Aquino III gravely abused his discretion when he appointed Sarmiento who is not qualified to head the Human Rights Claims Board.
Under Republic Act 10368 or the Human Rights Victims Reparation Act of 2013, the head of the board must have a “deep and thorough understanding of human rights and involvement in efforts against human rights violations committed during the Marcos time.
Sarmiento was a former member of the Philippine Constabulary-Integrated National Police who were among those who allegedly committed human rights violations during Marcos time.
Then, she became chief of the PNP Community Relations Group under the counterinsurgency program of the government, a machinery which petitioners say “attempted to deodorize the stench of the internationally condemned cases of extra judicial killings and enforced disappearances.”
“The issue of whether respondent Sarmiento meets the exacting qualities [to head the board] is therefore put to serious question. This does not inspire, merit or command trust and confidence in the head of the Board,” petitioners said.
Ernie Reyes | InterAksyon.com
MANILA, Philippines — Opposition to the appointment of a retired police general to chair the body tasked to process claims of victims of human rights abuses by the Marcos dictatorship continued to mount with a women’s group calling it an “affront to Filipinos” and the victims.
In a statement issued Tuesday, Tanggol Bayi said that, “152 women were victims of extrajudicial killing, 31 women were disappeared, while 290 women were illegally arrested and detained” during the administration of former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, when Lina Sarmiento headed the human rights office of the Philippine National Police.
Under the current administration, it added, the human rights group Karapatan has documented 18 women victims of extrajudicial killing, 3 cases of rape of girls, and 33 women political prisoners who were also victims of illegal arrests and fabricated charges.
Earlier, former Senator Rene A.V. Saguisag, who defended human rights abuse victims during the dictatorship, also called Sarmiento’s appointment “illegal.”
Before he became a senator, Saguisag served as spokesman of former President Corazon Aquino, mother of the incumbent, following the ouster of Ferdinand Marcos.
“The appointment of a police general, one from an institution which has systematically spawned rights violations including numerous sexual forms of violence against women since the Martial Law period, is an affront to Filipinos and all victims of human rights abuses,” filmmaker Kiri Dalena, Tanggol Bayi convenor, said in the statement.
Another Tanggol Bayi convenor, Cristina Palabay, accused President Benigno Aquino III of “using a female police official to deodorize stinking institutions with notorious records of human rights abuses.”
“We decry Aquino’s use of the gender card to justify the appointment of a police general to a body that is supposed to deliver justice to women victims of Martial Law,” she said.
Tanggol Bayi also decried what it called Malacanang’s disregard for its women nominees to the claims board, who it said are publicly known for their “deep and thorough understanding and knowledge of human rights and involvement in efforts against human rights violations” and “clear and adequate understanding and commitment to human rights protection, promotion and advocacy,” qualifications spelled out in the Human Rights Victims Reparation and Recognition Act of 2013.
The group had nominated former Gabriela Representative Liza Maza, one of the law’s main authors, and University of the Philippines Professor Judy Taguiwalo, a victim of the dictatorship and a women’s rights advocate.
It also supported the nomination of Karapatan chair Marie Hilao Enriquez, a veteran human rights activist and daughter of one of the plaintiffs in the class suit against the Marcoses that was the basis of the compensation law.
Members of the Samahan ng Ex-detainees laban sa Detensyon at Aresto (SELDA) together with the surviving victims of human rights violations during martial law and their relatives trooped to Chino Roces (formerly Mendiola) Bridge to express their grievances and assailed the continued inaction of the Aquino administration in implementing the Human Rights Victims Recognition and Reparation Act of 2013 otherwise known as RA 10368.
President Benigno Aquino III signed the Human Rights Victims Reparation and Recognition Act of 2013 into a law in February, in time for the 27th anniversary of EDSA People Power I Uprising.
“To date, after almost seven months, the law has not been implemented because since its signing, President Noynoy Aquino has not appointed members of the Human Rights Claims Board as stipulated in the law. The Human Rights Victims Claims Board shall process, evaluate and approve application for claims of reparation and recognition. Further, the Implementing Rules and Regulations (IRR) will also be made by the board. Thus, without the Human Rights Victims Claims Board and its implementing rules and regulations, the law becomes inutile,” said Marie Hilao-Enriquez, chairperson of SELDA.
SELDA asks why and what it is taking the President so long in implementing the law. ‘We are afraid that one reason why President Aquino is taking his own sweet time to form the Board is for him to exclude SELDA – nominees from being members of the Board. We in SELDA also hope that Palace officials have not dipped their fingers into the P10 B fund for victims’ reparation, and would not go the way of the scandalous pork barrel system.”
“We can no longer take Noynoy Aquino’s foot-dragging on the law while almost every month or week, a martial law victim dies. “Aanhin pa ang damo, kung patay na ang kabayo.” It adds insult to injury of martial law victims and their relatives when the said law is not given the immediate and appropriate attention by the Aquino government.” Enriquez concluded. ###
Reference: Marie Hilao-Enriquez, SELDA chairperson, 0917-5616800
MANILA, Philippines –President Benigno Aquino III on Monday signed a landmark law, compensating human rights victims of dictator Ferdinand Marcos, 27 years after a bloodless “People Power” revolution ended his reign.
“Nilagdaan natin ang Human Rights Victims Reparation Act of 2013 bilang pagkilala sa pagdurusang dinaanan ng napakarami noong Batas Militar.” Aquino said in his speech during the country’s celebration of the 27th People Power Revolution.
”Hindi natatapos sa paggunita ang ating krusada para sa katarungan,” Aquino said.
Aquino thanked Deputy Speaker Erin Tañada and Senator Serge Osmena who authored the bill, as well as Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile and House Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr.
Ten billion pesos ($244 million) will be distributed to potentially thousands of people who were tortured, raped or detained, as well as relatives of those who were killed, by Marcos’s security forces during his 20-year rule.
Aquino said the law was part of his government’s efforts to “right the wrongs of the past”.
“We may not bring back the time stolen from martial law victims, but we can assure them of the state’s recognition of their sufferings that will help bring them closer to the healing of their wounds,” he said.
Loretta Ann Rosales, an anti-Marcos activist who was tortured by his security forces and now heads the country’s independent rights commission, said the law would finally allow all his victims to feel a sense of justice.
“The law is essential in rectifying the abuses of the Marcos dictatorship and obliges the state to give compensation to all those who suffered gross violations of their rights,” Rosales told AFP.
Marie Hilao-Enriquez, the chairwoman of Selda, a group which represents Marcos rights victims, also welcomed the symbolic intent behind the law but said the money was too little to have a meaningful impact.
“There are so many victims that when you divide it to everyone it will not result to much,” Hilao-Enriquez said.
Hilao-Enriquez’s group represents about 10,000 documented victims but she said there were many more who had not been officially registered and may now come forward, such as Muslim communities in the remote south of the country.
Under the law, a “compensation board” will accept and evaluate applications for reparations over the next six months, according to Rosales.
The compensation money will come from about $600 million the government has recovered from Swiss bank accounts that Marcos secretly maintained while he was in power.
The government has accused Marcos and his relatives of plundering up to $10 billion and has so far recovered about $4 billion.
Aquino’s mother Corazon led the “People Power” revolution that saw millions of people take to the streets and force US-government backed Marcos from power. He died in exile in Hawaii in 1989.
Sister Cres Lucero, 70, a human rights supporter, hailed the enactment of the bill into law.
“Isang tagumpay ito para sa karapatang pangtao. Kasi dito talagang pinirmahan ng Pangulo natin ang Compensation Act para sa mga biktima ng martial law,” Cres said.
She underscored the role of justice in the pursuit of freedom.