MANILA, Philippines – Malacañang is standing firm on its decision to appoint a former police general as chairperson of the claims board for human rights victims.
This, despite criticims that retired two-star ranked Philippine National Police (PNP) General Lina Castillo Sarmiento was unqualified for the job.
Presidential Spokesperson Edwin Lacierda said Sarmiento had no record of being a human rights violator despite her background.
"She was not a part of the leadership during Martial Law. In fact, none of the present PNP leaders were members of the dreaded PC (Philippine Constabulary). 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," Presidential spokesperson Edwin Lacierda said Monday, February 17.
Lacierda's statement comes as former senator and noted human rights lawyer Rene Saguisag issued a statement over the weekend saying that Sarmiento was ineligible to lead the claims board based on qualifications set by the law.
Groups, such as Selda and the Bayan Muna, have slammed the Palace for choosing an individual connected with the PNP to head the body. During the Marcos regime, the Philippine Constabulary, the precursor of the PNP, was blamed for human rights violations.
Section 8, Chapter II, of Republic Act 10368 – the law granting indemnification to human rights victims –says:
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;
Saguisag said Malacañang must prove Sarmiento's qualifications.
"The new Chair's such INVOLVEMENT [ in human rights] must be disclosed. The Palace cannot say 'secret.' Director/General Sarmiento does not qualify for her appointment, from where we sit," Saguisag said.
Other board members
A check made by Rappler showed that the 8 other appointees to the board have background on human rights work.
Two of the members work for the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) – lawyer Byron Bocar and CHR Executive Director Jacqueline Veloria Mejia.
Two others are members of the Free Legal Assistance Group (FLAG), one of the groups allowed by law to nominate members to the board. They are human rights lawyer Wilfred Asis and professor Glenda Litong, who is also a member of the Women's Legal and Human Rights Bureau Incorporated.
Other members are lawyer Galuasch Ballaho (member of the Mindanao Human Rights Action Center), Undersecretary for Political Affairs and member of the government peace panel in peace talks with the National Democractic Front Chito Gascon, Amnesty International section director Aurora Corazon Parong and HIV consultant at Christian Conference of Asia Erlinda Senturias.
In an interview with the Philippine Daily Inquirer, Sarmiento appealed to her critics to give her a chance. She said she had not been accused of violating human rights.
“I’m just one of the 9 members of the board. As stated in the law, our work is very clear – to receive, assess, evaluate, investigate, and process applications for compensation of victims of human rights violations,” she said.
Bayan Muna Representative Neri Colmenares earlier said he believes a police general cannot become even just a member of the claims board.
“With these requirements how can a police general become the chair of the human rights body? How can the chair of a human rights board come from an agency historically and currently used for rampant human rights violations? As the former Director of the PNP Human Rights Affairs Office (HRAO) Gen. Sarmiento used to deny these human rights violations and in fact defended the PNP from charges of human rights violations," he said.
Sarmiento – the PNP's first female two-star ranked general – retired from police service earlier this year, ahead of her scheduled retirement in September.