Aquino defends chief of HR claims board

Natashya Gutierrez

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'She has the skill, she has the physical energy, she has the drive, she has the right direction to be able to accomplish the job in two years or less'

MANILA, Philippines – President Benigno Aquino III is not changing his mind: Lina Sarmiento will lead the Human Rights Victims’ Claims Board.

On Tuesday, February 25, Aquino defended the appointment of Sarmiento and explained why he chose the retired first female two-star general of the Philippine National Police to head the team screening and granting reparation for human rights victims during the Marcos regime.

“She has the skill, she has the physical energy, she has the drive, she has the right direction to be able to accomplish the job in two years or less,” he told reporters on the sidelines of the 28th EDSA People Power Revolution celebration in Cebu.

Earlier, Justice Secretary Leila de Lima also said Sarmiento’s “sterling” record makes her perfect for the task.

“And let’s remember, Lina isn’t the only person there – there’s a board. Let’s look at the track record of all the members of the board, it’s long. So their experience during the Martial Law years, combined with the drive and physical abilities of Lina, they will accomplish the mission assigned to them by the law,” the President said.

But not everyone is happy with the appointment. Former Senator Joker Arroyo called the choice “a brazen travesty of the historical legacy of the human rights movement.” 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 critics’ concern stems from what they perceive is her lack of “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,” as required by law.

Aquino’s appointment of Sarmiento comes a year after the signing of the Martial Law compensation bill into law.

Perfect age

But Aquino said Sarmiento’s age is perfect for the position.

The President said the appointee did not have to be a lawyer in 1972 during Martial Law to understand and comprehend its significance, adding he was only 12 when Martial Law was proclaimed. Aquino is now 54. 

“Obviously I was not a lawyer when I was 12. If you look at any lawyer who was a lawyer in 1972, we have an at least 13-year gap. So that person, who started out his career in 1972 would now be 67…. There were other candidates who are in their mid-80s. There is actually one candidate for this board – the compensation board – who begged off because of age,” he said.

Sarmiento is 55.

Aquino also emphasized the urgency of granting reparation to victims who suffered human rights abuses 4 decades ago within two years, and the extra challenge of warding off critics – two things he said he believes Sarmiento can manage.

“She is approaching the age of 56, which I think will give her enough maturity and time for the experience and the necessary physical ability to be able to complete the job in two years, and also to fend off those who would want to sabotage what this law intends to do and the aim for this particular law,” he said.

“Imagine someone in their mid-70s or 80s who needs to verify more than 10,000 victims’ claims in just two years’ time. Each individual case needs to be proven, written on the official record and, along with that, deal with the people who want to sabotage and are against this law.”

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Natashya Gutierrez

Natashya is President of Rappler. Among the pioneers of Rappler, she is an award-winning multimedia journalist and was also former editor-in-chief of Vice News Asia-Pacific. Gutierrez was named one of the World Economic Forum’s Young Global Leaders for 2023.