With spike in number of claimants, rights board needs more people
MANILA, Philippines–After it was swamped with 47,000 applications for compensation, the nine-member Human Rights Victims Claims Board (HRVCB) is seeking approval to hire more legal assistants to help investigate the claims and speed up the reparation process before the board’s term ends in May 2016.
“We have already informed our legislators if the provision of the law limiting the number of people we can hire can be amended. We have lined up solutions to these challenges,” HRVCB chair Lina Sarmiento told a press briefing on Wednesday.
After the six-month filing period ended on Nov. 10, the board will now evaluate and investigate the 46,985 applications for monetary compensation from the P10 billion fund allocated for human rights victims during martial law.
Sarmiento said the number of claims was unexpected. “We prepared for 20,000, which is already double the number of victims who are members of the class that filed a suit in Hawaii,” she said.
The board is expecting more claimants as a joint resolution to extend the filing period is pending in Congress. The House of Representatives has approved it on third and final reading, while the Senate will schedule it for third reading when it resume sessions on Nov. 17.
With reports of fixers and false claims, Sarmiento said the board must ensure that the applications are properly evaluated and investigated.
The nine members of the board were divided into three divisions to decide on the applications and determine monetary and nonmonetary claims based on the degree of abuse. The nonmonetary benefits include healthcare and scholarships to be provided by government agencies.
Under the law, the board is allowed to hire only five lawyers and three paralegal officers. “This definitely affected our services to the claimants. But we are prepared and committed to meet the challenge,” Sarmiento said.
During the intake period, the Department of Budget and Management allowed the board to recruit 15 paralegal officers to process claims in regional desks. The Commission on Human Rights also helped accept applications while local government units provided facilities.
Civil society organizations, the Public Attorney’s Office, the Integrated Bar of the Philippines, the Ateneo Human Rights Center and several law schools also extended help.
The board also received those filed by lawyers who defended victims of human rights violations and nongovernment organizations who documented the violations during martial law.
The target date for release of the checks is Dec. 10, 2015, to coincide with International Human Rights Day, or Feb. 25, 2016, the third anniversary of the Human Rights Victims Reparation and Recognition Act and the 30th anniversary of the Edsa Revolution.
Subscribe to INQUIRER PLUS to get access to The Philippine Daily Inquirer & other 70+ titles, share up to 5 gadgets, listen to the news, download as early as 4am & share articles on social media. Call 896 6000.