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.
Victims of martial law are taking up another fight against what they consider a monumental injustice.
This time they are waging a legal battle against retired police general Lina Sarmiento, President Aquino’s choice to head the Human Rights Victims’ Claims Board.
The nine-member claims board will receive, evaluate, investigate and approve the applications for compensation of martial law victims.
Assisted by the National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers (NUPL), the victims said they will file a petition in the Supreme Court challenging Sarmiento’s qualifications to head the board on the grounds that she used to be with the Philippine National Police, an agency they accused of violating human rights.
In Iloilo City, former political detainees will join protest actions on Tuesday against Sarmiento’s appointment.
The victims said that under Republic Act No. 10368, the Human Rights Victims Reparation and Recognition Act of 2013, members of the board should 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.”
They must also be of known probity, competence and integrity, and must have a clear and adequate understanding and commitment to human rights protection, promotion and advocacy.
NUPL secretary general Edre Olalia on Monday said the victims were “not questioning the discretion of the President (in choosing the head and members of the claims board). (B)ut we’re questioning (why) the President did not follow the explicit requirements on who should head the board.
Bayan Muna party-list Rep. Carlos Isagani Zarate said the filing of a petition against Sarmiento did not have to delay the process of compensating the martial law victims.
Zarate said the claims board was a collegial body and its other members could continue with the task of processing the applications for compensation and determining their amount should Sarmiento’s leadership be restrained.
Among the petitioners in the Supreme Court case to be filed against Sarmiento are members of Samahan ng Ex-Detainees Laban sa Detensyon at Aresto (Selda), whose members were jailed and abused during the Marcos dictatorship.
In a statement, Selda said the issue of Sarmiento’s appointment went beyond her qualifications. “It is a travesty of justice… a conscious effort to discredit and dishonor martial law victims,” Selda said.
Olalia, in a separate statement, said Malacañang was being “incorrigible, insensitive and hopelessly stubborn” in insisting on Sarmiento. He said there was no reason the head of the claims board should come from “the most vicious perpetrators of human rights atrocities from the time of the dictatorship…to the present.”
In Iloilo, Selda members criticized Aquino’s choice of Sarmiento, saying that “she belonged to an institution which was among those primarily responsible for human rights violations.”
“Surely there are many others who are qualified and credible,” said Fortunato Pelaez, Selda’s vice president for the Visayas, who was arrested in 1974 as a member of the militant group Kabataang Makabayan. He was detained for 15 months at Camp Crame in Quezon City and at Camp Delgado in Iloilo City, where he suffered torture, including the electrocution of his genitals.
Former political detainee Azucena Porras-Pestaño described Sarmiento’s appointment as an “immoral act” and “insulting” to the human rights victims amid the commemoration of the 1986 Edsa People Power I uprising. Pestaño was a teacher at the then Iloilo City College when she was arrested as a member of the Makabayang Samahan ng mga Propesyonal. She was detained for nine months.
Meanwhile, former senator and human rights lawyer Joker Arroyo who had earlier written an open letter to President Aquino scoring his choice of Sarmiento, on Monday pressed Malacañang to account for the P10-billion in compensation for the martial law victims.
“It would reassure everyone if Malacañang could confirm that the monies allocated to fund the monetary claims of the human rights victims…are still intact,” Arroyo said.—With a report from TJ Burgonio