MANILA, Philippines – On the same day that President Benigno Aquino III defended the fitness of retired police general Lina Sarmiento as chairperson of the Human Rights Victims' Claims Board (HRVCB), a group of Martial Law victims asked the Supreme Court to void her appointment.
The petitioners – mostly belonging to militant organizations – filed on Tuesday, February 25, a petition seeking to nullify Sarmiento's appointment, saying she had a record of tolerating human rights violations.
The date of filing coincided with the 28th anniversary of the 1986 EDSA People Power Revolution, a non-violent mass action which ended the dictatorship of President Ferdinand Marcos.
The Human Rights Compensation law or Republic Act (RA) 10368 enacted in 2013 provides compensation for activists who were imprisoned, tortured, or whose relatives disappeared during the dictatorial regime. The HRVCB, which Sarmiento heads, will facilitate its implementation.
"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," read the petition.
Petitioners allege that Sarmiento is unfit as HRVCB's head for the following reasons:
her tenure at the Philippine National Police (PNP)
her alleged refusal to investigate the 2007 abduction and torture case of 32-year-old Renante Romagus
her alleged failure as member of the anti-torture task force under the administration of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo to prosecute perpetrators of extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances
The PNP is a civilian organization that abolished the Philippine Constabulary (PC), which was part of the military during Martial Law. Many officers in the defunct PC led a military revolt that triggered the 1986 revolution.
"Everybody is well aware that many members of the Philippine Constabulary-Integrated National Police (PC-INP) and the Armed Forces of the Philippines and other paramilitary groups were the perpetrators of human rights violations against the Filipino people during Martial Law," wrote the petitioners before the SC.
The petitioners include former Bayan Muna Representative Satur Ocampo, current Bayan Muna Representative Neri Colmenares, Bagong Alyansang Makabayan chairperson Maria Carolina Araullo, Samahan ng mga Ex-Detainees Laban sa Detensyon at Aresto or Selda board members Trinidad Repuno, Tita Lubi, and Josephine Dongail.
They also appealed for Sarmiento's appointment to be temporarily halted as the High Court decides on its eventual nullification.
Sarmiento and President Aquino are named respondents in the petition.
Aquino on Tuesday stood by his decision, saying Sarmientos has the skill, physical energy, drive, and the right direction to be able to accomplish the job in two years or less.
Department of Justice Leila de Lima, who was among those who presented a short list of nominees to the President, earlier said Sarmiento was never involved in or complicit to any human rights violations. (READ: DOJ: Lady general fit to head Martial Law victims' claims board)
She added that standards – geographical diversity, immersion in human rights advocacy work, and other legal requisites – were in place in choosing the members of the board.
Presidential spokesperson Edwin Lacierda also said Sarmiento "was not a part of the leadership during Martial Law. In fact, none of the present PNP leaders were members of the dreaded PC. What I mean, they are not part of the leadership of the PC then. And Lina Sarmiento is viewed as a reformist – she is known as a security sector reformist."