“The appointment of a PC [Philippine Constabulary] relic to head the claims board is not only a grievous insult to the struggle against martial law but is also a shameless denial of the ideals of asserting freedom and democracy that was highlighted during the first Edsa People Power uprising in 1986.” – SELDA
By JANESS ANN J. ELLAO
MANILA — Human rights advocates slammed the appointment of retired police general Lina Sarmiento as head of the Human Rights Victims’ Claims Board in a protest action in Mendiola on Feb. 24, a day before the country marks the 28th anniversary of the first EDSA uprising.
“It is not only her credentials as former PC (Philippine Constabulary) officer that is an anathema to the historic struggle against martial law, but her zero track record of any involvement in asserting human rights nor any understanding or knowledge of the plight and struggles of martial law victims during and after the dark days of Marcos Dictatorship,” Selda or the Samahan ng mga Ex-Detainees Laban sa Detensyon at Aresto an organization of former political detainees, said in its statement.
On February 13, the Aquino administration announced the formation of the Human Rights Victims Claims Board, a year after the enactment of Republic Act 10368 or the Human Rights Victims Reparation and Recognition Act of 2013.
Aside from Sarmiento, other members of the board include: Jose Luis Martin Gascon, Byron Bocar, Aurora Parong, Galuasch Ballaho, Jacqueline Mejia, Glenda Litong, Wilfred Asis and Erlinda Senturias.
Selda reminded the Aquino administration that the Philippine Constabulary (now the Philippine National Police) and the Armed Forces of the Philippines were the “main apparatuses of the Marcos dictatorship in implementing the worst human rights abuses under the 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,” Selda said.
With the appointment of Sarmiento, the human rights group argued that the Aquino administration would seemingly deny “admission of the atrocities and repression used against the Filipino people, the supposed objective of the law. Instead, it promotes to a higher position those who violated the people’s human rights.”
“Incorrigibly insensitive and hopelessly stubborn. Why, in heaven’s name, should the head of a human rights board need to come from the ranks of the most vicious perpetrators of human rights atrocities from the time of the dictatorship and even up to the present?” Edre Olalia, secretary general of the National Union of People’s Lawyer, said.
Not meeting standards
Senator Joker Arroyo also criticized the appointment of Sarmiento in an open letter he addressed to President Aquino, saying that the retired police general did not meet the minimum standards set by the Human Rights Victims’ Reparation and Recognition Act of 2013.
The said law stipulates that members of the board should have a “deep and thorough understanding and knowledge of human rights and involvement in the efforts against human rights violations committed during the regime of former President Ferdinand E. Marcos.”
“General Sarmiento, whatever her qualifications in the field of human rights might be today, cannot have a track record of involvement in or understanding or knowledge of the human rights situation during the martial law period,” Arroyo said in his letter.
“Mr. President, in your hands lays the final and real vindication for those who suffered indignities in their fight for freedom but you have been consigned to irrelevance by contemporary history’s tendency toward historical amnesia,” he added.
“We appeal for help to nurture our nation’s sense of history. The unsung heroes deserve the long-overdue recognition of a grateful nation,” Arroyo said.
Communication secretary Sonny Coloma, in an interview with DZRB, said the Aquino administration respects the views of Arroyo. He said that the president has a deep understanding of human rights as he and his family experienced their rights being violated during the martial law period.
“It is a travesty of justice. It is a conscious effort to discredit 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 to the sidelines. The appointment of a PC relic to head the claims board is not only a grievous insult to the struggle against martial law but is also a shameless denial of the ideals of asserting freedom and democracy that was highlighted during the first Edsa People Power uprising in 1986,” Selda said.
“The appointment of Gen. Sarmiento manifests Pres. BS Aquino’s arrogance that is bound to marginalize the tens of thousands of human rights violations victims right from the very start. The task of the Claim’s Board is not only monetary compensation but most of all to render justice for the Martial Law victims,” Fe Salino, secretary-general of SELDA-Southern Mindanao Region, said.
People’s claims board
Selda, for its part, formed the People’s Claims Board.
“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 people’s board will also ensure that RA 10368 will be implemented. It will formulate Implementing Rules and Regulations (IRR), which will be submitted to the HRVCB as basis of the law’s implementation,” Selda said.
The People’s Claims Board would be composed of human rights activists and victims themselves namely: former 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. Edelinadela Paz, and human rights lawyers Kit Enriquez, Marcos Risonar and Dominador Lagare, Sr.
“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.”