31 Years Later: Still Waiting, Still Fighting

The walk to the Rizal Park before dusk in 1975 proved to be not just a stroll for 46-year old Amparo Diaz, an organizer of the urban poor in Tondo, Manila. She found herself picked up by armed men and herded into a jeep.


The walk to the Rizal Park before dusk in 1975 proved to be not just a stroll for 46-year old Amparo Diaz, an organizer of the urban poor in Tondo, Manila. Amparing, as she was called in the community, was walking along the streets of the country’s national park when she was seized by elements of the Metropolitan Command (Metrocom) of the Philippine Constabulary (PC), now the Philippine National Police (PNP).

“Namamasyal lang ako nuon tapos bigla ako dinampot at isinampa sa jeep” (I was just strolling then when suddenly I was picked up and forced into a jeep), she vividly remembers.

Inside the jeep, Diaz saw other female organizers who have been arrested by the Metrocom through a zoning operation. They were then brought to the Navotas fishport where they were made to line up with their male counterparts who have also been seized by the Metrocom that day.

As they lined up for the police, a man, whose face was covered by a white shirt with holes for the eyes – a la Makapili during the Japanese occupation of the country – began pinpointing suspected community organizers. Diaz was one of those fingered by the hooded informer. Also identified were Angel Carlos, 58, and his son, Delfin.

Diaz and the Carloses together with several other organizers from Tondo and neighboring areas were brought to Sikatuna and then transferred to the PC headquarters in Camp Crame, Quezon City. They were brought to the Bicutan stockade center where they were detained for one year.

While in detention, both Diaz and the older Carlos became ill. Stress and hypertension caused Diaz to develop pains in the stomach while Carlos suffered high blood pressure and heart ailments due to psychological torture.

Class suit

Now 77, Diaz came to this interview with her detention and release papers in tow. The documents looked as brittle as the old woman who owns them, their edges almost torn and color bordering from sepia to brown. Her typewritten name is now blurred. Only a few stretches of scotch tape held together one paper that bore around 12 of her signatures with 12 different dates indicating that she reported to the Metrocom for one year since her release in 1976.

With these documents are letters from the Federal District Court of Honolulu in Hawaii that said she and some 10,000 other victims of human rights violations during Martial Law have won a class action suit against Ferdinand Marcos, the late dictator who ruled the country for 20 years since 1966. Marcos declared Martial Law on Sept. 21, 1972 and was booted out of power through a popular uprising in February 1986.

As a testament to the string of violations committed against the Filipino people during the Marcos dictatorship, former political detainees who survived Martial Law grouped together in 1985 to form the Samahan ng mga Ex-Detainees Laban sa Detensyon at para sa Amnestiya or SELDA (Society of Ex-Detainees for Liberation against Detention and for Amnesty). The group initiated the class action suit against the Marcoses and finally won the case in 1992.

Human rights organizations documented at least 150,000 individuals arrested and 1,500 killed during the dictatorship while more than 700 others were declared missing.

In a landmark decision in 1992, the Hawaii court found Marcos guilty of gross human rights violations. The Marcos Estate was ordered to pay exemplary and compensatory damages to the rights victims of the dictatorship.

Legal obstacles

However, no compensation has been given the victims 14 years since the Hawaii court decision even as previous administrations after Marcos have recovered the Marcoses’ ill-gotten wealth from their hidden Swiss accounts.

Legal obstacles hinder the dispensation of the victims’ claims, records show. The Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Law (CARL) states that all recovered Marcos assets shall go to the country’s agrarian reform program. But the lower House has amended the act through the Human Rights Victims Compensation Act of 2006 passed on third reading before the 13th Congress adjourned in June this year.

The same act has also been passed on third reading by the Senate last week. It may soon be a subject of a bicameral proceeding. Meantime, not a few claimants have gone ill while some have even died with the compensation nowhere in sight.

During the interview, Diaz complained of lung problems while only the children of Carlos were available for the interview. Their father died in 2001 from complications of the heart and high blood pressure, an ailment – his children believe – he developed during his one year detention during Martial Law.

Still fighting

But one thing the Carlos children are proud of is the fact that their father died still fighting for the same cause he fought during the Marcos dictatorship.

When the old Carlos died at the age of 84, he was still an active member of Selda and a consultant of the new breed of urban poor organizers in their area. “Nakamatayan na ni tatay ang pakikipaglaban” (Father died fighting for his cause), said Miriam, the youngest of the Carlos children who now leads their barangay (village) in their fight against a government demolition project in their area.

Miriam says their family does not expect any compensation to be given them because the government lacks the political will to give justice to the victims of the Marcos dictatorship.

Malabo ng makuha yan (compensation), hindi na kami umaasa,” said Miriam. “Pero sa totoo lang, dapat ibigay yan ng gubyerno kasi pananagutan nila yan sa mga biktima at sa mga pamilya nila.” (We doubt we will be indemnified although we believe that the government has the obligation to give it to the victims and their families.) (Bulatlat.com)

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