Philippines Justice chief defends Human Rights Claims Board head

Philippine Justice Secretary Leila de Lima has expressed her full support for the choice of Police Directress Lina Sarmiento as chairperson of the Rights Victims’ Claims Board, despite strong protests from different human rights groups and victims of the Marcos dictatorship.

De Lima, who was among those who made the nominations for the membership of the HRVCB, said members of the Board were chosen for various reasons that took into account all the legal requisites demanded by the law.

“She is hardworking, honest and, above all, her integrity is untarnished,” De Lima said. “I understand how some sectors feel about the choice of Gen. Sarmiento on account of her coming from the Philippine National Police.”

De Lima assures the public that Sarmiento has a sterling track record in the Philippine National Police and was never involved in or complicit to any human rights violations.

When De Lima took on the helm of the Commission on Human 2008, Sarmiento was the head of the PNP Human Rights Affairs Office. “We both worked well together and while we may not be always on the same side of the fence, I never once questioned Gen. Sarmiento’s complete, and sincere understanding of and respect for human rights,” De Lima said.

“In nominating members of the Board, we were highly aware of the gravity of our task and recommended to the President people who not only have a commitment to human rights protection, promotion and advocacy, we also recommended people who had the stamina, passion and dedication to help this nation in the remembrance of the abuses of the past but also in honoring the victims and their sacrifices,” she added.

De Lima pointed out that other factors were also considered such as the necessity of having voices from Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao represented in the HRVCB. Lawyers were not the only members of the HRVCB, but also selected were those with medical, administrative and academic backgrounds.

Like Sarmiento, the other members of the HRVCB have been highly immersed in human rights work. “A perusal of the members, including the chairperson, would lend one to say that checks and balance, is expected in the Board,” De Lima said.

“I thought the choice of Gen. Lina was particularly inspired. An out-of-the-box choice, Lina’s being a part of the security sector is not an impediment. If anything, Gen. Lina’s presence enhances the legitimacy of the work of the Board that its work is devoid of any agenda except these: truth, justice, reparation and remembrance,” she said.

President Benigno Aquino earlier defended also Sarmiento’s nomination.