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. ###
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.
We denounce the appointment of Gen. Sarmiento as chair of the Human Rights Victims Claims Board (HRVCB). After prolonging the formation of the HRVCB for almost a year, the Aquino government made a historical affront to the victims by appointing a former member of the Philippine Constabulary, the forerunner of the PNP, as head of the Claims Board. It is not only her credentials as former PC officer that is an anathema to the historic struggle against martial law, but her zero track records of any involvement in asserting human rights nor any understanding or knowledge ofthe plights and struggles of martial law victims during and after the dark days of Marcos Dictatorship.
On 13 February 2014, Malacañang announced the formation of the HRVCB a year after the passage of RA 10368, or the Human Rights Victims Reparation and Recognition Act of 2013.
Pres. Benigno S. Aquino III appointed Gen. Lina Castillo-Sarmiento, a retired 2-star general of the Philippine National Police as chair of the HRVCB. To complete the members of the board, also appointed are Jose Luis Martin Gascon, Byron Bocar, Aurora Parong, Galuasch Ballaho, Jacqueline Mejia, Glenda Litong, Wilfred Asis and Erlinda Senturias.
The PC and the Armed Forces of the Philippines are the main apparatuses of the Marcos dictatorship in implementing the worst of human rights abuses under Martial Law. It is the PC and the AFP that dispersed rallies, “salvaged,” abducted, tortured, arrested and detained thousands of Martial Law activists. Her presence in the Claims Board does not command respect nor confidence in the hearts of the Martial Law victims.
In appointing Gen. Sarmiento, the Aquino government junks altogether the state’s admission of the atrocities and repression used against the Filipino people, the supposed objective of the law. Instead, it promotes into position those who violated the people’s human rights. This is no different from the Pres. Aquino’s appointment of military officials to higher positions under his presidency.
BS Aquino’s Claims Board does not represent the victims of Martial Law. The Aquino government completely disregarded the provision in the law which underlines that members of the HRVCB should have deep knowledge, capacity and experience in defending human rights. Not a single nominee of SELDA, most of them widely known as Martial Law victims and human rights champions, was appointed to the Claims Board. Much to our dismay, CHR Chairperson Etta Rosales and DOJ Sec. Leila de Lima even came to the rescue by saying said that Gen. Sarmiento is qualified for the job.
However the Aquino government justifies it, the appointment of Gen. Sarmiento goes way beyond the issue of qualifications. It is a travesty of justice. It is a conscious effort to discredit and dishonour Martial Law victims. The Aquino government, which has banked on the people’s clamor for justice and change, is trying to push the people’s struggle for justice farther in the sidelines. The appointment of a PC relic to head the claims board is not only considered a grievous insult to the struggle against martial law but a shameless denial of the ideals in asserting freedom and democracy that was highlighted during the first Edsa People Power in 1986.
With its brandishing of human rights violators in the military and the appointment of Gen. Sarmiento, the people who fought the dictatorship cannot expect anything more from the current administration. It is rather just to continue to fight for justice. SELDA demands the immediate recall to Sarmiento’s appointment.
SELDA has formed the People’s Claims Board (PCB).This will be the primary body to stand for the victims of Martial Law. It will ensure that all who suffered atrocities during the Marcos dictatorship shall be recognized and indemnified. The PCB will also ensure that RA 10368 will be implemented. It will formulate an Implementing Rules and Regulations (IRR) which will be submitted to the HRVCB as basis of the law’s implementation.
The PCB will continue to assert that, based on conclusive presumption, the 2,013 Martial Law victims that were delisted (who were part of the 9,539 members of the class suit against the Marcoses filed in Hawaii in 1986) and thosewho will step forward to make themselves recognized will be rightfully recognized and indemnified.
The PCB is composed of individuals actively in defense of human rights, and were victims themselves. They are Bayan Muna Rep. Satur Ocampo; SELDA chairperson Marie Hilao-Enriquez; SELDA vice-chairperson Bonifacio Ilagan; former Gabriela Women’s Party Rep. Liza Maza; University of the Philippines Prof. Judy Taguiwalo; Dr. Edelina dela Paz; Atty. Kit Enriquez, Atty. Marcos Risonarand Atty. Dominador Lagare, Sr.
Martial law victims in the regions of Southern Mindanao, Bicol and Panay launched also similar protest actions to express their grievances on the formation of the Human Rights Victims’ Claims Board.
SELDA will continue to fight for justice for the victims of human rights violations.As long as the perpetrators are in power, and the Aquino government continues to implement the same policy of extrajudicial killings, abduction and enforced disappearances, illegal arrest and detention, torture and the wanton use of martial law tactics against the struggling people, we will continue to stand and assert for justice. ###
Reference: Marie Hilao-Enriquez, SELDA chairperson, 0917-5616800 Jigs Clamor, SELDA national coordinator, 0917-5965859
Nothing personal, but does Lina Castillo Sarmiento “have a deep and thorough understanding and knowledge of human rights and involvement in efforts against human rights violations” committed during the Marcos regime? No such evidence on record. And such “deep and thorough understanding and knowledge of human rights and involvement in efforts against human rights violations” are mandated by law.
Does Sarmiento “have a clear and adequate understanding and commitment to human rights protection, promotion and advocacy?” Open to serious challenge.
And yet she will head the Human Rights Victims’ Claims Board? Why put a woman in uniform, who represents an institution that has historically played its indispensable role in violating human rights, at the helm of a body on human rights? What sort of macabre message is this?
As a Philippine National Police “human rights officer,” she played into the part of the apologist mechanism during the Arroyo administration’s killing spree and the nightmare of disappearances that claimed scores of civilians as victims. Does this record inspire trust and confidence?
And President Aquino had to take a year before he could finally decide to openly dishonor, insult and scoff at the memory and sacrifice of those who raged against the dying of the light.
Incredible callousness on top of signature indolence.
Save maybe for some on the board who may be sincere, those that were at the forefront in the battle against the fascist dictatorship and incorrigible kleptocracy were obviously shut out from any representation by this son of perceived icons of democracy.
Where does the heart of this government lie? Or is it April Fools’ Day?—EDRE U. OLALIA, Secretary General, National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers, Maaralin corner Matatag Streets Central District, Quezon City