By JANESS ANN J. ELLAO
MANILA — In line with women’s month this March, women human rights defenders and victims of the dictatorship under the late president Ferdinand E. Marcos held a protest action urging senators to pass the Indemnification Bill for Victims of Martial Law.
“Many of our sisters and colleagues are in the twilight of their years and some have gone without seeing justice being served. The passage of the Marcos Victims Compensation Bill is a way to remember and honor our martyrs,” Marie Hilao-Enriquez, chair of the Samahan ng mga Ex-Detainees Laban sa Detensyon at Aresto, said.
Legislation is needed to enable the victims of Martial Law to benefit from the $232.5 million in sequestered funds from the Marcoses because the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Law provides that all sequestered assets from the late dictator’s family would be used for the implementation of land reform. The Federal court in Hawaii, in 1995, found Marcos guilty of human rights violations in a class suit filed by Selda. Victims were awarded with $2 billion as damages. In 1998, the Swiss government transferred $640 million to the Philippine government, which the Supreme Court transferred to the national treasury in 2003.
The said compensation bill aims to distribute $232.5 million for the victims of martial law.
In a previous Bulatlat.com report, martial victims and their families have already talked with House Speaker Feliciano Belmonte last January 24, 2012. Belmonte said the bill is now with the Committee on Appropriations because the House Committee on Human Rights has already concluded their deliberations.
At the Senate, however, the counterpart bill is still pending with the Committee on Justice and Human Rights, which Sen. Francis Escudero chairs.
Women rights defenders
Activists held butterfly-shaped placards, which, according to Girlie Padilla, convener of the Tanggol Bayi, symbolizes the sacrifices of women human rights defenders during the time of the martial law.
Trining Herrera, 71, said her days would be almost over. “I want to see that day for justice to be served,” she said in a protest action in front of the Senate office in Pasay City.
Herrera recalled the days when she and other victims of human rights violations were fighting the dictatorship of former president Marcos. She was the first president of the Zone 1 Tondo Organization of ZOTO, one of the strongest urban poor groups during the early years of Martial Law. “They said demonstrations were not allowed. But we continued because we wanted justice for the poverty that we were in.”
Because of this, Herrera was arrested and detained at Camp Crame where she was heavily tortured. Her torturer now holds a rank of general in the Philippine National Police. “They electrocuted my hands. They asked me questions but they were not satisfied with my responses so they electrocuted my breasts. I kept on shouting but no one seemed to hear me.”
Enriquez of Selda also gave tribute to her sister whose birthday is on March 14. Liliosa Hilao was the first woman political prisoner to die in detention. Liliosa was the associate editor of Hasik, the student paper of the Pamantasan ng Maynila. Witnesses testified that Liliosa was heavily tortured and muriatic acid was forced into her mouth. Medical reports also showed that she was raped by her captors.
Her killing in 1973 “sparked a condemnation of the dictatorship that resulted in many students joining the underground to participate in the struggle through different means,” Enriquez said. Liliosa’s killing also awakened the Catholic Church, which condemned the rampant human rights violations and established task forces to cater to the needs of the oppressed.
Another martial law victim, Lorena Barros, whose birthday is on March 18, was remembered during the protest action.
“The lives of women like them inspire young women human rights defenders to continue fighting oppressive measures that are still being imposed on us. For as long as justice is not obtained, more Lorenas and Liliosas will be born to persevere in the struggle,” Padilla said.
Human rights violations continue
According to Mary Guy Portajada, secretary general of Desaparecidos, human rights violations did not cease after the martial law was lifted and the so-called democracy was restored.
“We have lost many lives. And we are still looking for many others who have disappeared,” Portajada said.
Human rights group Karapatan said it has documented 67 victims of extrajudicial killings under the administration of President Benigno S. Aquino III. Three out of nine victims of enforced disappearances are human rights defenders. Most of them are farmers, indigenous peoples, workers and the urban poor who are defending their right to land, ancestral domain, livelihood, decent housing, jobs and other basic rights.
“We hope our senators would prioritize the bill and enact it into law amid the ongoing impeachment hearings,” Enriquez said.
Herrera called on the senators, especially the likes of Sen. Joker Arroyo, who, like her, was a victim of martial law, to quickly act on the indemnification bill pending before the Senate. “Do not pretend that you could not hear us. Give justice to what we went through.”