SELDA continues to protest Pres. BS Aquino’s appointment of former PNP General as head of the Human Rights Victims’ Claims Board; exhorts
Victims to urge Pres. Aquino to nullify appointment of former PNP General Sarmiento
“It’s a yellow-colored rehabilitation of Martial Law,” SELDA chairperson Marie Hilao-Enriquez called Pres. Benigno Simeon Aquino’s defense of the appointment of former PNP General Lina Castillo-Sarmiento, as chairperson of the Human Rights Victims Claims Board.
The group returned to Mendiola on Friday to demand the nullification of the President’s appointment of Sarmiento, a member of the defunct Philippine Constabulary during Martial Law and later on became a two-star general of the present PNP.
According to Enriquez, the appointment of the former general is not only a scheme “to marginalize the legitimate victims of the Marcos fascist regime but also an attempt to deodorize and prettify the image of the police and the military as dreaded martial law apparatuses.”
Three protesters, dressed as Pres. Aquino, Sarmiento and CHR Chairperson Etta Rosales, painted yellow the rolls of concertina wire on steel frames blocking the road going to Malacañang. The act symbolizes the scheme of the Aquino government in trying to conjure a police-military effort of dispensing reparation by appointing a former general to head the martial law victims’ claims board. “If this is not callousnes, then this is an asinine behaviour of a president who lacks deep understanding of history on the people’s role in the struggle against martial law,” Enriquez added.
“The Aquino administration is trying so hard to defend this shameless appointment by shrugging off criticisms from different groups, institutions and personalities who have fought martial law. Does this foretell how the Claims Board (HRVCB) will act on the victims’ clamor for the long-overdue justice? We all know that justice should be rendered soon especially that many of the victims worthy of recognition and reparation are in the sunset of their lives. But isn’t Pres. Aquino’s defense of Sarmiento’s appointment a way of killing us softly? Rubbing more salt into a gaping injury? exclaimed Enriquez.
SELDA reiterated its position that Pres. BS Aquino’s appointment is a total disregard of the provisions stated in Republic Act 10368, or the Human Rights Victims Reparation and Recognition Act of 2013, which state that the members of the HRVCB should have deep and thorough understanding and knowledge of human rights and involvement in efforts against human rights violations during the regime of former President Marcos.
“It is not only her credentials as former PC officer that is anathema to the Filipinos’ historic struggle against Martial Law, but her zero track record of any involvement in asserting human rights nor any understanding or knowledge of the plights and struggles of Martial Law victims during and after the dark days of the Marcos dictatorship,” said Enriquez.
The group maintained that former PNP General Sarmiento should not head the Claims Board, being part of the PC which, along with the Armed Forces of the Philippines, became the main machineries of the Marcos dictatorship in implementing the worst of human rights abuses under Martial Law. It was the PC and the AFP that dispersed rallies, “salvaged,” abducted, tortured, arrested and detained thousands of Martial Law activists. Up to the present, these military apparatuses are still the violators of human rights. “Thus, General Sarmiento’s presence in the Claims Board does not inspire respect nor confidence in the hearts of the Martial Law victims, even if the President’s apologists have positively endorsed her appointment, ” Enriquez said.
“In appointing former PNP Gen. Sarmiento, Pres. BS Aquino is deceptively doing a doublespeak: while supposedly supporting the ML victims’ cry for justice by finally implementing the law that recognizes their contribution to the struggle for human rights, the government junks altogether the state’s admission of the atrocities and repression committed against the Filipino people, the supposed objective of the law. Hence, ML victims continue to demand Pres. Aquino to nullify his appointment of a police general to the Human Rights Victims’ Claims Board. She must be replaced by someone who possesses credibility, integrity and deep empathy towards the martial law victims,” Enriquez ended. ###
Mr. Speaker, my dear colleagues;
Today, I rise on a personal and collective privilege to speak on a very important issue that has earned the ire of many human rights victims of the Martial Law regime: President Aquino’s February 13 appointment of a former police general as chair of the Human Rights Victims’ Claims Board.
Mr. Speaker, the said appointment is an insensitive act on the part of President Aquino — even a dishonor to the memory and sacrifices made by the victims of Martial Law.
Mr. Speaker, my dear colleagues: the Martial Law victims waited for nearly three (3) decades after the late dictator was ousted before Republic Act No. 10368 or the Human Rights Reparations and Recognition Act was passed into law last year. They were made to wait again for another year before Pres. Aquino finally constituted the Claims Board.
However, other than it was an insult to the victims, the appointment of Police General Lina Castillo-Sarmiento as chair of the claims board is also a highly questionable act.
Mr. Speaker, in Section 8 of RA 10368, the qualifications of the nine (9) member-claims board are the following:
- (a) Must be of known probity, competence and integrity;
- (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;
- (c) At least three (3) of them must be members of the Philippine Bar who have been engaged in the practice of law for at least ten (10) years; and
- (d) Must have a clear and adequate understanding and commitment to human rights protection, promotion and advocacy. Indeed, what really was the involvement of Director Sarmiento in preventing human rights violations during the Martial Law regime? Mr. Speaker, President Aquino cannot feign ignorance of the requirements of the very law that he signed last year.
Callously, instead of appointing as head of the claims’ board a victim or even a representative of the victims, Pres. Aquino choose to give this rare distinction to a representative of the very institution – the Philippine Constabulary, the forerunner of the PNP — that unleashed, along with the AFP, the most brutal human rights violations during the Marcos dictatorship.
During the previous Arroyo administration, Director Sarmiento was one of its apologistsasthe former Director of the PNP Human Rights Affairs Office (HRAO).
As HRAO chief, she merely swept under the rug charges of human rights violations committed by PNP officers and personnel. She was part of the “denial machine” that attempted to deodorize the stench of the internationally condemned cases of extra-judicial killings and enforced disappearances under the Arroyo administration. One such case in the past was the manner by which she handled the investigation involving the case of 32-year-old Renante Romagus, a farmer, who had survived from his ordeal after he was forcibly abducted, tortured, held in captivity, repeatedly stabbed and left for dead last December 12, 2007 in Compostela Valley Province, in Mindanao.
According to the Hong Kong-based Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC), Director Sarmiento, as head of PNP HRAO, dismissed calls for investigations on Romagus case, as she lamely but callously blamed instead the victim’s inability to identify his perpetrators.
Again, we asked General Sarmiento, where were you and what did you do as head of HRAO during the height of the state of impunity involving cases of EJKs and Enforced Disappearance under the Arroyo administration?
Last year, during the AFP-MNLF Zamboanga City standoff, the only claim to fame of Director Sarmiento was her program of bringing in clowns and comedians to entertain the affected residents, but, she was very silent on the reported torture and other human rights violations committed against civilians and suspected MNLF rebels.
Yes, Mr. Speaker, even until today, the very institution that Director Sarmiento represents is associated in many more serious cases of human rights violations. For example, just last month, several PNP personnel were exposed to have been involved in maintaining a torture chamber in Laguna.
On the other hand, it is also appalling to note Mr. Speaker, distinguished colleagues, that after a year of dilly-dallying the appointment of the claims board, President Aquino even bypassed and disregarded nominees from SELDA or the Samahan ng Ex-Detainees Laban sa Detensyon at Aresto, an organization of former political prisoners and victims of Martial Law.
SELDA is one of the human rights organizations specifically recognized by RA 10368 to submit nominees to be appointed as members of the claims board.
Mr. Speaker as we closely monitor the actions of this Aquino claims board, I challenged this Chamber, which made possible the passage into law of RA 10368, not to allow President Aquino to desecrate further the said law, even as we continue to fight for justice for the victims of Martial Law and for all the victims of human rights violations.
Thank you, my dear colleagues.
Thank you, Mr. Speaker