By SATUR C. OCAMPO
At Ground Level | The Philippine Star
Posted by Bulatlat.com
Last week’s decision by a Hawaii court to distribute $7.5 million in compensation to 7,500 victims of human rights violations during the Marcos dictatorship was a piece of good news, the third one since the original 9,529 victims, who filed the class suit against Marcos in 1986, won their case in 1995.
In that 1995 ruling the court already ruled that the victim-plaintiffs were entitled to $2-billion compensation to be taken from the Marcos ill-gotten wealth that may be recovered. This ruling was subsequently upheld by the US Supreme Court and recognized by the Swiss and Philippine supreme courts.
The second piece of good news came in 1997, when the Federal Supreme Court of Switzerland ordered two Swiss banks to transfer to a PNB escrow account $540 million of Marcos funds they had held in deposit, with two conditions: 1) our Supreme Court should confirm the money to be ill-gotten, and 2) part of it must be allocated to compensate the class-suit plaintiffs.
The money had grown to $630 million (or P32 billion) when it was transferred to the national treasury in 2003, with P10 billion supposedly set aside as compensation fund.
The bad news is that the victim-plaintiffsmany of whom have died, others are ageing and sicklyhaven’t received a single centavo from the P10-billion fund. Even the $7.5 million, promised to be distributed at $1,000 for each plaintiff next month, may not be easily given to them.
Why? Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile, a key martial-law implementor, says the US court ruling cannot be enforced in the Philippines. To win compensation, he challenges the claimants to file suits in local courts and prove that they are martial law victims. Will Enrile intervene? He doesn’t say.
The other hindrance is that under the agrarian reform law, Marcos ill-gotten wealth recovered by the government must be used to finance agrarian reform. A law providing compensation for the Marcos victims from such wealth, that would amend the agrarian reform law, must be enacted. Yet repeated efforts have failed to pass such a law since 1998, despite having been certified for urgent approval by Gloria Arroyo and approved by the House and Senate in 2007.
Reason: at the closing session of the 13th Congress Mrs. Arroyo herself ordered the bill, then up for ratification by the House, reconsidered and archived upon advice by her national security adviser, Norberto Gonzales, allegedly because those who would be compensated were “communists.”
A consolidated compensation bill seeking to avail of the P10 billion is now being finalized in the House, with a counterpart in the Senate. The authors, the victims and their supporters urge President Aquino to certify the bill as urgent. Yet, despite his declared support for it, the President hasn’t included the bill among Malacanang’s 12 priority legislative measures in the 15th Congress.
The saga of the martial-law victims’ struggle for justice is characterized, on the one hand, by perseverance on their part, their lawyers and human rights advocates, and, on the other hand, by an utter lack of political will of the successive governments to do them justice and put closure to their long fight.
Enrile was incorrect in claiming recently that no local court has rendered a decision on “alleged abuses” during martial law.
In 1992, Judge Delilah Magtolis of the Quezon City Regional Trial Court found a number of military officers guilty of torturing 22 political detainees arrested in 1982. The civil suit was courageously filed in 1983while the dictatorship was still in force!by Jose W. Diokno, pursued after his death in 1987 by his son, Jose Manuel Diokno.
Judge Magtolis also ordered the defendants to compensate the plaintiffs for damages amounting to P6.7 million.
The case was docketed as “Aberca et al. vs. Ver et al.” Among the defendants were Gen. Fabian Ver (as AFP chief), Brig. Gen. Galileo Kintanar, Col. Rolando Abadilla, and Lt. Cols. Rodolfo Aguinaldo and Panfilo Lacson.
The defendants went to the Court of Appeals, which ruled in their favor in 2004. The victim-plaintiffs asked the Supreme Court to reverse the CA ruling, following up in 2005 with an urgent motion for early resolution. Today the SC is still sitting on the case.
Note these facts: the Aberca case preceded the Hawaii class suit; nine years passed before the RTC decided the case, the CA took 12 years to act on the appeal, and five years have gone by without SC decision.
Also note: the defendant military officers earlier filed a petition for certiorari at the Supreme Court, claiming they could not be held responsible for the acts of torture of their subordinates. The SC ruled they could be sued for “command responsibility” and “civil liability” if they had knowledge of their subordinates’ acts but did not stop them. That ruling crucially boosted the case.
The Aberca case exemplifies another instance of injustice inflicted by the slow pace of our judicial system. How can justice be so elusive in these two cases?