By RONALYN V. OLEA
MANILA – It took almost a year before President Benigno Aquino III appointed members of the Human Rights Victims Claims Board (HRVCB) and when he finally did, martial law victims could not help but raise their eyebrows.
According to the Republic Act 10368 or the “Human Rights Victims Reparation and Recognition Act of 2013″, the nine-member HRVCB is tasked to accept and approve applications for claims, craft rules for the implementation of the law, among others. The Human Rights Victims Reparation and Recognition Act of 2013 provides $246 million in compensation for those who were persecuted by the dictatorship of Ferdinand E. Marcos.
Aquino has appointed Lina Castillo-Sarmiento, the first female two-star general of the Philippine National Police (PNP) as chairwoman of the HRVCB, according to a report. Presidential Communications Operations Office head Herminio Coloma Jr. said that the members of the board were chosen “based on their qualifications and competence.”
Sarmiento’s appointment to the HRVCB does not sit well with martial law victims and human rights groups.
“Is Noynoy insulting us? Nanggagago ba siya?” Marie Hilao-Enriquez, chairperson of the Samahan ng Ex-Detainees Laban saDetensyon at Aresto (Selda), told Bulatlat.com in an interview.
“The victims have been pointing to state security forces as the perpetrators of the human rights violations during the Marcos dictatorship. Why did Aquino appoint someone from the ranks of violators? It would be even better for President BS Aquino to appoint Gen. Palparan to complete the cruelty of his insensitivity.” Enriquez said.
SELDA is the organization that initiated the class action suit against former dictator Ferdinand E. Marcos in 1986, as soon as he was booted out of power.
Enriquez, also chairperson of the human rights group Karapatan, questioned Sarmiento’s qualifications. “Sarmiento was already a police officer during martial law. I am sure she knew of the gross human rights abuses at that time, what did she do?” Enriquez said. “It seems that her only qualification was that she once served as human rights officer of the Philippine National Police. I wonder if that is the qualification that Mr. Coloma is talking about.”
Cristina Palabay, Karapatan secretary general, said, “A martial law relic/PNP [Philippien National Police] at the helm of a body that is supposed to render justice to martial law victims is the greatest historical affront to the struggle for justice and indemnification of martial law victims.”
Palabay said Sarmiento came from the “dreaded martial law apparatus called the Philippine Constabulary which inflicted the numerous atrocities during the Marcos dictatorship.”
Human rights lawyer Edre Olalia, secretary general of the National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers (NUPL) also raised the questions on Sarmiento’s qualifications. “Does she have ‘a deep and thorough understanding and knowledge of human rights and involvement in efforts against human rights violations’ committed during the Marcos dictatorship? Highly doubtful. Does she have ‘a clear and adequate understanding and commitment to human rights protection, promotion and advocacy? Extremely suspect. And yet she will head the Claims Board?”
Olalia was referring to the qualifications of HRVCB members set by the law.
Olalia added that Sarmiento was “an apologist during Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s killing spree and disappearance nightmare of scores of civilians.”
“BS Aquino had to take a year before he could finally decide to openly dishonor, insult and scuff at the memory and sacrifice of those who raged against the dying of the light,” Olalia said. He dubbed the appointment of Sarmiento as “incredible callousness on top of signature indolence.”
Enriquez also lamented that the selection process for the HRVCB was not at all transparent.
Selda submitted eight nominees but not one has been appointed to the HRVCB. Enriquez said their group only received a letter from Malacanang once, dated December 9, 2013. “The letter, which came from the President’s legal affairs office, informed us that the President is considering some candidates for the board. It did not mention anything about our nomination.”
“We knew this would happen. They would not want us there because we are critical of the Aquino administration’s policies,” Enriquez said. “Many of those they appointed were mum about the continuing human rights violations.”
Other members of the HRVCB are Wilfred Asis, GaluaschBallaho, Byron Bocar, Jose Luis Martin Gascon, Glenda Litong, Jacqueline Veloria Mejia, Aurora Corazon Parong, and Erlinda Senturias.
“How can we trust this board?” Enriquez asked. “Majority of the members of the Board have tainted records. Clearly, President BS Aquino does not only insult the victims but he would like us and some members of the Board to quarrel.”