February 20, 2014

Victims twice over

Human rights victims of the US-backed Marcos dictatorship, have every reason to feel aggrieved and insulted by President Benigno S. Aquino’s appointment of a police general to head the martial law Human Rights Victims Claims Board (HRVCB).  Mr. BS Aquino’s choice of someone in the top leadership of the Philippine National Police (PNP), a vital part of the state security apparatus that to this day retains the notoriety of being the number one human rights violator in the country alongside the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), is a travesty of the purest sacrifices of that generation of Filipinos who resisted mailed-fist repression, puppetry and kleptocracy.

President Ferdinand Edralin Marcos instituted a palace coup d’état and imposed a martial law regime that served to increase the personal wealth and political power of its officials, the ruling elite and foreign multinational corporations at the expense of the people.  He did so under the pretext of “saving the Republic” and “building a New Society”. 

The precursor of the PNP was the dreaded Philippine Constabulary that saw action in cracking the skulls and snuffing the life out of demonstrators during the massive anti-government demonstrations sparked by the 70s’ First Quarter Storm even as Marcos was already plotting to declare martial law and decimate all forms of democratic opposition to his rule.

It was through the PC and AFP plus paramilitary cum vigilante groups armed by the state that the fascist dictatorship perpetrated gross human rights violations (HRVs) against the people and even war crimes in the course of its “total war” against the communist-led armed struggle in the countryside and the Moro struggle for independence and self-determination in Muslim Mindanao.

Twenty seven years after the fall of the hated dictator, due primarily to the untiring efforts of the martial law victims themselves, the landmark Human Rights Victims Recognition and Reparation Act of 2013 or RA 10368 was finally passed into law.  But to their utter disappointment and outrage, not only did Mr. BS Aquino take an agonizingly long full year to constitute the Claims Board that would evaluate and process the claims of human rights victims, he placed at its helm Gen. Lina Castillo-Sarmiento, the former head of the PNP Directorate for Community Relations that also oversees the PNP Human Rights Affairs Office (HRAO).

Gen. Sarmiento as head of PNP HRAO and as a member of President Gloria Arroyo’s Task Force Usig has a dismal record not only of inaction on human rights violations committed by PNP elements under the Arroyo regime but of collaborating in the systematic whitewash and cover-up of these violations and those committed by other state security forces.

Bayan Muna Rep. Carlos Zarate, in a privilege speech last 17 February accused Gen. Sarmiento of being part of the “denial machine” that “attempted to deodorize the stench of the internationally condemned cases of extra-judicial killings and enforced disappearances under the Arroyo administration”.

He brought up the case of 32-year-old farmer, Renante Romagus, from Compostela Valley Province in Mindanao, who survived forcible abduction, torture while held in captivity, and being repeatedly stabbed and left for dead by suspected members of the AFP last December 12, 2007.  Citing the finding of the Hong Kong-based  Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC),  he said Director Sarmiento dismissed calls for investigations of the Romagus case “as she lamely but callously blamed instead the victim’s inability to identify the perpetrators”. 

Rather than seriously investigate the HRV complaints and atrocities pointing to military, police and paramilitary as perpetrators, Task Force Usig came out with the ridiculous conclusion, contrary to all evidence on hand, that all the victims, mostly unarmed leaders and activists of progressive organizations critical of the government and seeking fundamental socio-economic and political reforms, were killed, abducted or tortured by their fellow activists or the New People’s Army. 

Determining the real culprits and holding them accountable was the last thing Task Force Usig wanted to do and Gen Lina Sarmiento willfully played her role in the macabre and farcical zarzuela.  

How, under these circumstances, can the martial law human rights victims, or any sane person for that matter, expect Gen. Sarmiento to lead the Claims Board tasked with determining who the victims are and what injustice has been committed against them?  Absence of partiality towards the perpetrators and bias against the victims is the minimum requirement for such a task.  One need not even raise the issues of integrity and sense of justice to see that Gen Sarmiento could not possibly qualify.

Clearly, the main function and mission of the PNP HRAO which Sarmiento strove to accomplish was to deodorize the PNP of its odious record as the country’s number one human rights violator and conjure the illusion of a reformed PNP.

Moreover, former Presidential Spokesperson during the Corazon Aquino administration and prominent human rights lawyer Atty. Rene Saguisag went so far as to call BS Aquino’s appointment of Gen. Sarmiento as “illegal” based on Sec. 8 (b) of RA 10368; that is, to qualify to be named to the Claims Board, one "[m]ust have a deep and thorough understanding and knowledge and INVOLVEMENT IN EFFORTS AGAINST HUMAN RIGHTS VIOLATIONS COMMITTED DURING THE REGIME OF FORMER PRESIDENT FERDINAND E. MARCOS." (Underscoring provided.)  Atty. Saguisag demanded that Malacanang disclose the new Chair's such “involvement”. 

But all that Presidential Spokesperson Lacierda could say was to initially deny that Gen. Sarmiento was part of the "dreaded" Philippine Constabulary during martial law.  When it was pointed out that she had been working in the PC crime lab since 1980, Mr. Lacierda modified his statement by saying the general was not yet in the leadership of the PC at the time.  Rather lamely, he tried to assure the public thus, “Lina Sarmiento is viewed as a security sector reformist. Let’s give her a chance."

Human Rights Commission Etta Rosales for her part was reported to have described Sarmiento as "action-oriented" as if the job of the Claims Board is akin to that of a complaints desk in a police precinct!

Then there are the pseudo-feminists who attempt to use the “gender card” by extolling Gen. Sarmiento’s feat of becoming the only two-star female PNP general and thereby being more than qualified to the Claims Board post (sic). 

Aside from being non-sequitur, this same non-argument was clearly proven false with the first woman Philippine president, Corazon Aquino, who not only failed to prosecute HRVs but rather perpetuated these especially in the countryside. Furthermore, she even retained a number of Marcos-era repressive decrees that bedevil us to this day.

And what about Ms. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, the second woman president, who has one of bloodiest human rights records since Marcos. She carried out a policy of escalating the commission by the military and police of gross HRVs – extrajudicial killings, enforced disappearances, torture, etc. -- in the cities and with complete impunity.

Thus the Marcos human rights victims are being victimized once again, ironically with the pretense  that their rights are being upheld and that their role in deposing the dictatorship is being acknowledged and vindicated.  While this is quite deplorable and unconscionable, it is also not so surprising, even if at the hands of the son and namesake of the most famous Marcos human rights victim himself, Senator Benigno “Ninoy” Aquino. #

Published in Business World
21-22 February 2014


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