Palace to Joker: Aquino ‘deeply aware’ of rights concerns
Coloma says Aquino's personal experience under Martial Law was factored into his controversial appointment of a former police general as head of a claims board for human rights victims.

'HE KNOWS.' Coloma says Aquino's personal experience under Martial Law was factored into his controversial appointment of a former police general as head of a claims board for human rights victims. File photo by Lauro Montellano Jr/Malacañang Photo Bureau

MANILA, Philippines – Even prominent freedom fighters during Martial Law failed to convince President Aquino to reconsider his controversial appointment of an ex-police general as head of a claims board for human rights victims.

Malacañang stood firm on the appointment, saying the President and his family also suffered under martial law.

Responding to an open letter of former Senator Joker Arroyo, Palace Communications Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr said Aquino differed from Arroyo’s position that retired Philippine National Police (PNP) general Lina Castillo Sarmiento was unqualified for the job.

A human rights lawyer and freedom fighter during Martial Law, Arroyo asked Aquino to review the basis for Sarmiento’s appointment. He called the appointment “a brazen travesty of the historical legacy of the human rights movement.” Arroyo’s letter was published on the Philippine Daily Inquirer.

Coloma responded that the President was all too aware of the concerns of human rights victims.

Pansinin din po natin na ang humirang sa kanila, si Pangulong Aquino, ay mayroon pong malalim at malawak na pag-unawa diyan sa usapin ng human rights dahil sa kanyang personal na karanasan at sa naranasan na rin po ng kanyang pamilya sa buong kaganapan ng Martial Law at ito po ay isinaalang-alang din niya sa pagpili ng mga kasapi ng Claims Board,” Coloma said on radio DZRB on Sunday, February 23.

(Let us also take note that the one who appointed them, President Aquino, has a deep and wide understanding of the issue of human rights because of his personal experience and his family’s experience during Martial Law. He factored this in choosing the members of the Claims Board.)

The secretary was referring to the detention and 1983 assassination of the President’s father, Senator Benigno “Ninoy” Aquino Jr, a staunch critic of the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos.

The president’s mother, Corazon Aquino, continued the struggle for democracy by challenging Marcos in the 1986 snap elections, and becoming president after the EDSA People Power Revolution that ousted Marcos.

Arroyo is the latest voice to criticize Sarmiento’s appointment. Rene Saguisag, another noted human rights lawyer and former senator, also said Sarmiento did not meet the requirements set in the Human Rights Victims’ Reparation and Recognition Act of 2013.

The law granting indemnification to human rights victims state that the 9 members of the board “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.”

Human rights victims and advocates slammed Aquino for choosing an individual connected with the PNP to head the board. During the Marcos regime, the Philippine Constabulary (PC), the precursor of the PNP, was blamed for human rights violations.

“The appointment of a general from the uniformed services to preside as chair over the adjudication of the claims for reparation and recognition of the human rights victims is a stinging repudiation of our 15 years of struggle for freedom and democracy, which culminated in the national incandescence at EDSA,” Arroyo said.

“Mr. President, in your hands lays the final and real vindication for those who suffered indignities in their fight for freedom, but have been consigned to irrelevance by contemporary history’s tendency toward historical amnesia.”

‘Give her time’

Coloma said the Palace respects Arroyo’s views, calling him “an ardent freedom fighter and human rights advocate in the Martial Law period.” Yet he said Arroyo should give Sarmiento time to prove her self.

“Under the law that created the Human Rights Claims Board, that has a sunset clause. The board is only given two years to do its duty after the promulgation of the implementing rules and regulations,” Coloma said.

“In our view, the members of the board should be given the chance to prove their capability.” 

Sarmiento also asked her critics to give her a chance. She said in a previous interview with the Inquirer that she was not 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.

Presidential Spokesperson Edwin Lacierda also said that Sarmiento and other members of the board were not part of the PC leadership during martial law. He hailed her as a reformist in the security sector.

Critics including Gabriela Representative Luz Ilagan though were unconvinced.

“The board is tasked with reviewing human rights cases mostly committed by the state, and he assigns a person from the ranks of the perpetrators, even heads it. Where is the logic or the sense of fairness or justice the victims are hoping for?” she said. – Ayee Macaraig/ 

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