MANILA, Philippines—As the Aquino administration celebrated the 28th anniversary of the Edsa People Power Revolution that toppled the Marcos dictatorship, victims of martial law went to the Supreme Court on Tuesday to stop a retired police director from chairing the board that would determine compensation for victims of the Marcos regime.
Former Bayan Muna Rep. Satur Ocampo was among those who filed a petition for certiorari, prohibition and injunction as well as an application for a temporary restraining order against Lina Sarmiento, whom President Aquino named chair of the Human Rights Victims’ Claims Board.
Named respondents in the petition were Aquino, who was accused of committing grave abuse of discretion when he appointed Sarmiento, former chief of the Philippine National Police Community Relations Group under the government’s counterinsurgency program and head of the PNP Human Rights Affairs Office (HRAO) before her new appointment.
Ocampo and five other petitioners told the high court that they were aghast that Aquino had appointed a police general to head the claims board.
They said Sarmiento’s appointment was “illegal” and should be declared void as she failed to meet the minimum qualifications for a board member set by Republic Act No. 10368, or the Human Rights Victims’ Reparation and Recognition Act of 2013.
In their petition, they said Sarmiento did not meet the requirements that she “must be of known probity, competence and integrity (Section 8a); must have a deep and thorough understanding and knowledge of human rights violations committed during the regime of former President Marcos (8b); and must have a clear and adequate understanding and commitment to human rights protection, promotion and advocacy.”
The petitioners said the President “may argue that respondent Sarmiento has a track record as a member and officer of the PNP but it cannot be denied that she lacks the mandated qualifications set forth under the law, and the institution she represents lacks the credibility and integrity to deliver justice to human rights victims.”
The petitioners also said that when Sarmiento was HRAO chief, she “became part of the machinery, which ‘attempted to deodorize the stench of the internationally condemned cases of extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances.’”
One case Sarmiento handled was about farmer Renante Romagus who survived abduction and torture. He was stabbed and left for dead in December 2007 in Compostela Valley province, Ocampo et al. said.
They said Sarmiento dismissed calls for investigations of Romagus’ case “as she lamely but callously blamed instead the victims’ inability to identify his perpetrators.”
They also said Sarmiento was a member of Task Force Usig, created by the Arroyo administration which investigated extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances but which they pointed out had failed to do its job.
The petitioners noted that there was nothing on public record to show that Sarmiento was involved in any effort against atrocities during the Marcos dictatorship.
“If at all, she was a silent, passive, if not acquiescent cog in the security apparatus of the repressive dictatorship,” they said.
Ocampo et al. said their petition was not a question of not only whether Sarmiento was qualified under the law to assume such post but also of whether the President’s act of approving her appointment “contravenes the very essence of the law he is supposed to implement.”
And they said the answer to both questions was “in the negative.”
“Therefore, the illegal and unjustifiable appointment by no less than respondent Aquino, the very person who signed the law and a son of supposed icons of Philippine democracy, of a former police general representative of or coming from an institution that has perpetrated gross human rights violations during the Marcos regime—and even up to the present—negates and renders nugatory the very purpose for which the law was enacted,” they said.
The petitioners said the high court should declare Sarmiento’s appointment null and void because the President had committed grave abuse of discretion.
“By appointing a former police general to head the human rights board, the President is practically exonerating the entire system that perpetrated the abuses, justified their occurrence and concealed them with a veneer of impunity,” they said.
Aside from Ocampo, the other petitioners were Bayan Muna Rep. Neri Colmenares, Bayan chair Carolina Araullo, and Trinidad Repuno, Tita Lubi and Josephine Dongail—members of Samahan ng Ex-Detainees Laban sa Detensyon at Aresto.
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.
“The Aquino government chose to commemorate the 28th year of People Power 1 and the fall of the Marcos dictatorship by consigning a general who was part of the Philippine Constabulary-Integrated National Police (PC-INP) to head Human Rights Victims’ Claims Board,” said Karapatan secretary general Cristina Palabay. “The appointment of Gen. Lina Sarmiento is a subtle way to rewriting history. It obliterates the distinction between perpetrators and victims of human rights violations during martial law,”Palabay added.
Karapatan scored Sarmiento and other Aquino apologists who try to focus on the monetary compensation for the victims of martial law. The task of the Claims Board is not simply “to receive, assess, evaluate, investigate and process applications for compensation of victims of human rights violations” as Sarmiento put it.
“The heart of the matter is justice,” Palabay said. “The Claims board is a mechanism designed by a law that aims, first and foremost, to render justice to martial law victims.”
The law, in fact, specifically states its intent to “recognize the heroism and sacrifices of all Filipinos who were victims of summary execution, torture, enforced or involuntary disappearance and other gross human rights violations committed during the regime of former President Ferdinand E. Marcos.”
“Thus, the membership of the Claims Board should reflect the spirit of justice,” said Palabay. “Viewed from different angles, the appointment of Sarmiento is unjustifiable. At best it is ludicrous; at worst, it shows how perverted this government views history.”]
Republic Act 10368 states that members of the Claims Board must be of known probity, competence and integrity; must have a deep and thorough understanding of knowledge of human rights and involvement in efforts against human rights violations committed during the regime of former President Ferdinand E. Marcos; and must have a clear and adequate understanding and commitment to human rights protection, promotion, and advocacy.
Karapatan joins the demand to recall the appointment of Gen. Lina Sarmiento and supports the formation of a People’s Claims Board. The People’s Claims Board is composed of known anti-dictatorship activists and human rights advocates, mostly victims of martial law themselves: Makabayan President Satur Ocampo, SELDA chairperson Marie Hilao-Enriquez, SELDA vice-chairperson Bonifacio Ilagan, former Gabriela Women’s Party representative Liza Maza, UP Professor Judy Taguiwalo, Dr. Edelina de la Paz, Atty. Kit Enriquez, and Atty. Dominador Lagare, Sr. ###
SELDA forms People’s Claims Board, demands recall in BS Aquino’s appointment of PNP general to recognize ML victimsPress Statement 17 February 2014
SELDA announces the formation of the People’s Claim Board, in protest of the Pres. Benigno Aquino III’s appointment of a PNP general in the Human Rights Victims’ Claims Board (HRVCB) to implement the law.
The Samahan ng Ex-Detainees Laban sa Detensyon at Aresto (SELDA) has repeatedly urged the BS Aquino government to immediately form the claims board. On February 13, more than a week before the Human Rights Victims Reparation and Recognition Act of 2013 or RA 10368 turns a year old, the Aquino government through the Commission on Human Rights announced the appointment of PNP Retired General Lina Sarmiento as chairperson of the HRVCB. After a year of shutting off Martial Law victims, the Aquino government arbitrarily appoints a former police general.
BS Aquino’s appointment of Sarmiento is a clear affront to martial law victims. Furthermore, it asserts that the appointment of an ex-PC officer to head the martial law claims board is tantamount to a shameless honoring of an atrocious martial law apparatus. The defunct Philippine Constabulary is the forerunner of the current Philippine National Police that has records of the gravest human rights violations during the dark days of Marcos dictatorship.
Pres. Aquino clearly disregards the provisions of the law which enumerated the qualifications of members of the HRVCB. Gen Sarmiento is bereft of credibility, much more, her deep knowledge of martial law atrocities and empathy to its victims is put into question since she is part of the institution accused of rampant human rights abuses during that period.
Apart from being a PC officer under Marcos, Sarmiento was the former head of the PNP’s Human Rights Affairs Office during the Arroyo regime, which has the gravest post-martial law record of human rights abuses. This does nothing to merit her appointment. We express doubts that under Sarmiento’s chairpersonship of Human Rights Victims’ Claims Board will become an independent body.
In forming the People’s Claims Board, SELDA makes this as a parallel body to act both as a watchdog and a monitoring body of Aquino’s HRVCB. The People’s Claims Board priority is to ensure that real and legitimate martial law victims will not be marginalized. There is no room for backing out and toning down our call for justice. ###
Reference: Marie Hilao-Enriquez, SELDA chairperson, 0917-5616800
MANILA, Philippines – The only son of two of the most prominent victims of Ferdinand Marcos’ regime signed a landmark law yesterday, providing compensation for human rights victims of the dictatorship.
President Aquino, whose father Benigno was assassinated by state forces in 1983, signed Republic Act 10368 or the Human Rights Victims Reparation and Recognition Act of 2013.
The law will award P10 billion, sourced mainly from the Marcoses’ deposits in Swiss banks, to about 10,000 victims.
RA 10368 seeks to “right the wrongs of the past,” President Aquino said.
Compensation will be based on the extent of injuries. A point system of distributing the funds will be spelled out in greater detail in the implementing rules and regulations that will be released soon.
“The law itself provides a point system. There will be of course the board that will be determining the claimants, and based on that point system they will be able to determine how much a person will be entitled to,” presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda said.
The signing of the law – exactly 27 years after the ouster of dictator Ferdinand Marcos in a bloodless military-backed popular uprising – is also considered an official recognition of the atrocities committed during the regime, largely by security forces.
Marcos and his relatives and cronies are accused of plundering up to $10 billion. So far, the government has recovered about $4 billion.
“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,” Aquino said.
Among the factors to be considered in determining individual compensation are period of detention, degree of torture or sexual abuse, among others.
“There is a determination of award. There is a point system and it shall range from one to 10 points,” Lacierda said.
“Victims who died or disappeared or are still missing shall be given 10 points, while those tortured and/or raped or sexually abused shall be entitled to six to nine points; victims who suffered detention shall be given three to five points; victims whose rights were violated shall be given one to two points.
“And there will be an IRR that will be drafted and perhaps put in finer detail how this computation of the point system shall be done,” Lacierda said.
The law also provides for the creation of the Human Rights Violations Victim’s Memorial Commission, whose task is to heighten the youth’s awareness – through education – of the excesses of the Marcos regime as well as the heroism of those who fought it.
Presidential Commission on Good Government (PCGG) chairman Andres Bautista said RA 10368 “addresses not only past mistakes but endeavors to ensure that these mistakes never happen again.”
“The P10-billion fund which will be sourced from the Marcos Swiss bank accounts successfully repatriated back to the Philippines by the PCGG in 2003 is definitely being put to good use,” he said.
In a speech delivered at the People Power monument on EDSA in Quezon City, Aquino thanked Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile and Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr. for shepherding the measure. He also lauded House Deputy Speaker Lorenzo Tañada III – one of the main authors of the law – for patiently working for the approval of the bill.
“Now that the victims are being recognized for their sufferings, it is time to declare ‘never again’ to martial law. If we have tuwid na daan, we should also have tuwid na kasaysayan in order to prevent a wrong presentation of history,” Tañada said.
Tañada’s father and grandfather, Wigberto and Lorenzo Sr., were themselves victims of martial law.
Loretta Ann Rosales, an anti-Marcos activist who was tortured by his security forces and now heads the Human 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 said.
Under the law, a compensation board will accept and evaluate applications for reparations over the next six months, according to Rosales.
Marie Hilao-Enriquez, chair of the Samahan ng mga Ex-Detainees Laban sa Detensyon at Aresto or SELDA, 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.
SELDA 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 Mindanao.
“This is another victory of the martial law victims in
their continuing struggle for justice. Through their relentless efforts, finally and officially recognized are the heroism and sacrifices of all Filipinos who fought the dictatorship and were victims of human-rights violations – summary execution, torture, enforced disappearances and all other gross forms of violations,” SELDA said in a statement. “They faced adversity, but took the courage to stand up and defend, not only theirs, but the people’s rights.”
For some lawmakers who fought the Marcos dictatorship, the signing of RA 10368 completed the “trilogy” of landmark human rights laws in the country.
Albay Rep. Edcel Lagman and Bayan Muna Rep. Neri Colmenares, in separate statements, hailed President Aquino’s signing of the law but called on Malacañang to make sure the new law is strictly implemented.
The two other landmark human rights laws are the Anti-Torture Act of 2009 or RA 9745 and the Anti-Enforced or Involuntary Disappearance Act of 2012 or RA 10353, Lagman said.
Lagman’s brother, human rights and labor lawyer Hermon Lagman, disappeared on May 11, 1977. His family never found him despite incessant efforts to locate him in military camps. The Albay lawmaker said they have not decided if they would accept compensation.
Colmenares said he considered the enactment of the compensation law a personal victory, citing his experience of torture at the hands of the military as well as his four-year detention as a 17-year old student leader.
“At last the long wait for the martial law victims is over. This is a victorious day for those who have awaited and fought for the state’s recognition of their suffering under martial law,” Colmenares said.
“Many years after the Hawaii court recognized us, our own government recognized us,” he said, referring to the ruling of the US court to grant compensation to nearly 10,000 victims of human rights violations during the regime of the late strongman Marcos.
“The overall message of this recognition is that martial law must never happen again, or is a call for vigilance – the people must not let it happen again,” he added.
Colmenares also said he would have given to his mother whatever compensation he would receive had she lived long enough to see the law passed and implemented.
“She did suffer a lot during my torture and four-year imprisonment, so I would have willingly given it to her, but she died last year. I guess I would have to give my share nalang to the SELDA,” he said.
He said his mother wanted to do repairs on their house in Bacolod City. He added that it might also be ethically questionable for him to accept compensation since lawmakers are not supposed to financially benefit from legislation enacted during their term.
Unlike Colmenares, another human rights victim turned lawmaker said he would be very happy to accept compensation.
“I was a detainee in Bicutan in 1978. Yes, I will accept. It is a moral victory on my part,” Iloilo Rep. Jerry Treñas told The STAR. Treñas belongs to the ruling Liberal Party. Colmenares said Bayan Muna colleague and The STAR columnist Satur Ocampo had been removed from the compensation list by lawyers of the Marcoses.
“We will insist that he be included in the list of human rights victims in recognition of his sacrifices during martial law,” he said.
By compensating human rights victims, the government is officially recognizing their sacrifices, senators said yesterday.
“While it took all of 27 years for the state to finally recognize the atrocities it inflicted on Filipinos whose democratic rights were suppressed under Marcos, the compensation law seeks to give justice to victims of the dark days of oppression and hopefully give an assurance that it will not happen again,” Sen. Francis Escudero said.
“As one of the co-authors of this law, I personally see this as a recognition of the heroism that was widespread during martial law: a heroism that rang across hills and blazed through the streets of this country,” Sen. Teofisto Guingona III said.
Even the late dictator’s son and namesake described the law as “reasonable” and “imbued with compassion.”
But Sen. Bongbong Marcos said the government should also find ways to compensate other human rights victims after the 1986 revolution.
“It is only when we remember the atrocities, the injustice, and the abuses that went on in our past that we, as a nation, can continue to fight against attempts to resurrect these evils. Our memory of martial law, kept alive and strong, will ensure that we will never have to suffer the same fate ever again,” Guingona added.
Sen. Loren Legarda said the people should continue to fight for human rights without trampling on the rights of others.
“We must support ways by which we can protect and uphold our democracy,” she said.
“We must protect freedom of speech. We should ensure honesty, transparency and accountability of government officials, thus we must have freedom of information,” Legarda stressed.
Sen. Alan Peter Cayetano, for his part, said the government should sustain the “momentum of change” so that every Filipino can realize the full benefits of democracy.
He said the benefits of EDSA would only be fully realized if economic opportunities become acccessible to the majority of Filipinos.
For Sen. Francis Pangilinan, the signing of the landmark compensation law on the anniversary of the People Power Revolution of 1986 “serves as a reminder for us Filipinos to never take for granted the freedom that we now enjoy.”
Pangilinan said Filipinos born after the revolution must be constantly reminded of the excesses of the Marcos regime.
“It is our duty to remind this generation of what transpired. We must never allow this part of our history to be trivialized nor the facts twisted by those who seek to be cleansed of their transgressions against the Filipino people. Never again, indeed,” Pangilinan said. – With Paolo Romero, Jess Diaz, Alexis Romero, Christina Mendez, Rhodina Villanueva, Rainier Allan Ronda
On the upcoming anniversary of the first Edsa People Power, the Samahan ng mga Ex-detainees Laban sa Detensyon at Aresto (SELDA) calls on Pres. Aquino to immediately sign into law the Human Rights Victims Reparation and Recognition Act of 2013.
Almost three weeks after having been ratified by both houses of congress, the said measure still awaits the president’s signature for its enactment into law.
According to SELDA, the victims have waited so long for this law and the pomposity and grandiose preparation that go with the President’s formal signing should not be a reason for its delay.
“We have already suffered and waited more than enough for the past 27 years. Its passage into law and the final recognition of the struggles and sacrifices of victims and survivors is substantially enough for us. We strongly urge Aquino not to delay anymore its signing, and let the law now do justice for us,” said Marie Hilao-Enriquez, chairperson of Selda.
Though it sees nothing wrong that the bill is said to be signed on the anniversary of the first people power, SELDA expresses dismay that the eventual signing would be used by the Aquino administration to further portray itself as a “human rights champion” and to score points for the government during this election period.
“The law is a product of the numerous efforts of the victims to seek justice, and it should not be used to deodorize the human rights record of this regime brought about by the numerous killings and transgressions that are committed by this regime,” said Hilao-Enriquez. ###
Reference: Marie Hilao-Enriquez, SELDA chairperson 0917-5616800