DAVAO CITY, Philippines – Former political detainees and martial law survivors in Mindanao expressed dismay over the composition of the nine-member claims board created by President Aquino.
“My worst fears are confirmed,” said Gabriela Representative Luz Ilagan. “The Board is tasked to review human rights cases mostly committed by the state (the military, the police), and he assigns a person from the ranks of the perpetrators, even heads it?” Ilagan asked, referring to the appointment of former Philippine National Police director Lina Castillo Sarmiento, to head the claims board that would process, evaluate and approve applications for reparation claims of martial law survivors.
“Where is the logic or the sense of fairness or justice victims are hoping for?” Ilagan asked.
Ilagan said the appointment was “incomprehensible,” and “merely highlights the administration’s insensitivity” to issues concerning martial law victims.
“This general’s militaristic frame of mind would definitely contravene the victims’ expectations and welfare,” she said, referring to Sarmiento.
Fe Salino, the secretary general of the political detainees’ group Selda, said she feared the composition of the board itself might revive the trauma felt by martial law victims of torture and rape and might discourage them from coming forward to claim reparations.
“Some of the survivors have been deeply traumatized and are still carrying with them the trauma of Martial Law,” Salino said.
Salino particularly reacted to the President’s choice of a police woman to head the board. “No problem if she’s the first woman general but what is her track record in handling human rights cases?” she asked.
“She entered the police force in the early 1980s, when the country was still under (former President) Marcos, when the police was the top violator of human rights and responsible for countless illegal arrests, disappearances, torture,” she said.
“As chair of the human rights claims board, what does she know about the rights of political detainees?” she asked.
The President also appointed to the nine-member board Wilfred D. Asis, Galuasch G. Ballaho, Byron D. Bocar, Jose Luis Martin C. Gascon, Glenda T. Litong, Jacqueline B. Veloria Mejia, Aurora Corazon A. Parong and Erlinda N. Senturias.
Salino also said that although Gascon has been serving as among the members of the government negotiating panel in the talks with the National Democratic Front (NDFP), “what has he got to do with martial law victims?” she asked, “What is his records in human rights?”
She urged the President to review RA 10368, or the Human Rights Victims Reparation and Recognition Act that he signed on Feb. 25 2013, which has stated that people appointed to the board should be those with “sufficient knowledge and background on human rights issues and should not make any appointments for political accommodation.”
She said the law required that those who would sit in the claims board, must have a “deep and thorough understanding and knowledge of human rights and involvement in efforts against abuses during the Marcos regime; and must have a clear and adequate understanding and commitment to human rights protection, promotion and advocacy.”
Selda was among the earliest to submit their nominees to the board, as required by the law, but not one of their nominees was picked up as member.