Rights victims want ex-PNP general out of claims board

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Tuesday, February 25, 2014


VICTIMS of former President Ferdinand Marcos' iron-fist rule from 1972 to 1986 urged the Supreme Court (SC) on Tuesday to remove former Philippine National Police (PNP) General Lina Sarmiento as head of the board tasked to process compensation claims.

They also asked the Court to issue a temporary restraining order (TRO) to stop Sarmiento from assuming her post while the legality of her appointment to the Human Rights Victims' Claims Board is still being deliberated.

In a petition, the victims led by former Bayan Muna Representative Satur Ocampo said President Benigno Aquino III violated the law by appointing someone to head the board falling short of the qualifications stated in the Human Rights Victims Recognition and Reparation Act of 2013.

Republic Act 10368 mandates that a member of the board including the chairperson must have "deep" understanding and knowledge of human rights, involvement in efforts against rights violations under Marcos and are committed to uphold human rights.

"There is nothing on public record that Sarmiento ever got involved in any effort against such atrocities during the dictatorship. If at all, she was a silent, passive, if not acquiescent cog in the security apparatus of the repressive dictatorship," the petition read.

"Hence, it is not only a question of whether Sarmiento is qualified under the law but is also a question as to whether Aquino's act of appointing Sarmiento contravenes the very essence of the law he is supposed to implement," it added.

Sarmiento was the chief of the PNP Community Relations Group under the counterinsurgency program of the then President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and was also the head of the PNP Human Rights Affairs Office.

But as HRAO chief, the petitioners recalled her alleged failure to bring to justice PNP personnel who were accused of participating in extrajudicial killings, torture and enforced disappearances.

One such case was the manner by which Sarmiento handled the investigation involving 32-year-old Renante Romagus, a farmer, who had survived from his ordeal after he was forcibly abducted, tortured, held in captivity, repeatedly stabbed and left for dead on December 12, 2007 in Compostela Valley.

According to the Hong Kong-based Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC), Sarmiento allegedly dismissed calls for investigations on Romagus case, blaming instead the victim’s inability to identify his perpetrators.

"The issue of whether Sarmiento meets the exacting qualities of 'known probity, competence and integrity' as well as 'a clear and adequate understanding and commitment to human rights protection, promotion and advocacy' is therefore put to serious question. This does not inspire, merit or command trust and confidence in the head of the board," the petition stated.

Aquino however has no plans to recall her appointment.

In an interview after the 28th commemoration of Edsa People Power which ousted Marcos, the President said Sarmiento has the "skill, physical energy, drive and right direction to be able to accomplish the job in two years or less."

Justice Secretary Leila de Lima, who was among those who made the nominations for the membership of the HRVCB, also assured the public that Sarmiento was never involved in or complicit to any human rights violations.

De Lima said Lina being a previous member of a law enforcement body is not an issue.

"If anything, General 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.

Sarmiento was the PNP-HRAO chief when de Lima took over the leadership of the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) in 2008. (Sunnex)

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