“The accountability of the CHR and Attys. Swift and Domingo cannot be ignored.” – Bayan Muna Representative Teddy Casiño
By RONALYN V. OLEA
MANILA – How did the fake claimants to the Marcos compensation money get access to the list of victims? How did they get the checks personally distributed by lawyers of the victims?
These were the questions posed by Bayan Muna Rep. Neri Javier Colmenares and Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan) in separate statements following the arrest of eight suspected members of a syndicate allegedly recruiting fake claimants to the compensation money awarded to human rights victims during the dictatorship of Ferdinand Marcos.
According to the police, the syndicate recruited persons, gave them fake postal identification cards with the names of legitimate claimants and checks worth $1,000 each under the account name RA Swift FAO Human Rights Case. Robert Swift and Rod Domingo are the lawyers of the victims. The $10 million fund came from the settlement agreement with a Marcos crony awarded last year by a Texas court to victims of human rights abuses.
The Criminal Investigation and Detection Group of the Philippine National Police announced that it arrested last Wednesday, November 2, Edward Santiago, 43; his wife Marlene Santiago, 44; Rodolfo Figueroa, 40; Ramon Arellano, 60; Rex Madrid, 49; Edna Madrid, 54; Felicidad Bulilan, 61; and Dioleto Fadallan, 61 for their alleged involvement in the crime.
Domingo admitted knowing the Santiago couple but denied knowledge of the syndicate’s operations.
“They may have contacts inside the CHR and the lawyers,” Colmenares, who himself was arrested during martial law and among the list of legitimate claimants. Colmenares, along with another Bayan Muna representative Teddy Casiño, urged the House of Representatives to investigate the incident, saying the CHR investigation “may be tainted considering that insiders from the agency may be involved in the scam.”
“It is the CHR and Domingo who are facilitating the distribution of the checks and who have access to the master list,” Bayan said.
Earlier, CHR chairwoman Loretta Ann Rosales has ordered an investigation into reported cases of fake claimants. Rosales said Swift and Rod Domingo, the other counsels for the claimants, were the ones who managed the checks and that the CHR was only the distribution center.
“The accountability of the CHR and Attys. Swift and Domingo cannot be ignored. Of course, the CHR has the prerogative to probe the case and submit their findings to Congress but it may not be enough because from all indications this is an inside job. So regardless of a CHR probe, Congress will also investigate…” Casiño said.
Casiño said they will invite Rosales, Swift and Domingo as well as those caught impersonating Marcos human rights victims.
In a statement, the Samahan ng Ex-detainees Laban sa Detensyon at Aresto (Selda) called for an impartial investigation into the incident. It was Selda, an organization of former political prisoners,that initiated the filing of the class action suit against former President Ferdinand Marcos.
“Atty. Rodrigo Domingo and Atty. Robert Swift, counsels in the class suit, should likewise be investigated as they are responsible for the integrity of these documents. It is their duty to ensure that these checks will be released to the rightful claimants,” Bonifacio Ilagan, Selda vice chairman, said.
Ilagan said the incident could have been averted if Selda was allowed to access the list. Ilagan said Selda and the martial law victims have repeatedly sought Domingo and Swift for meetings for transparent discussions on court actions and on the distribution of the initial compensation. The two, however, repeatedly brushed aside Selda’s efforts, Ilagan said.
“The incident further erodes the credibility of the CHR, Domingo and the ongoing process of compensating Marcos human rights victims,” Bayan said.
Ilagan added that this is disheartening especially for the 2,013 legitimate claimants who were arbitrarily stricken off the list by Domingo and Swift but were in the original list of 9,539 victims as validated by the US Federal District Court of Hawaii.
Selda had questioned the delisting of 2,013 victims from the list of legitimate claimants.
Swift and Domingo listed only 7,526 victims. Selda said the number of victims should be 9,539, referring to the number of petitioners who filed the class suit against Marcos in 1986.
“They were denied justice because of the arbitrariness of these counsels and now they are doubly victimized because the compensation due them is distributed to alleged fake claimants,” Ilagan said.
Up to now, victims of human rights violations during martial law have not received the $2 billion compensatory damages awarded by the Federal Court of Hawaii in 1995. A law is needed to mandate the government to allot a portion of the sequestered funds for the victims because the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Law provides that all sequestered assets from the Marcos family would be utilized for the implementation of land reform.