“We dedicate this small victory to all martial law martyrs and heroes who have gone before us. We will continue to honor them, as we ensure that this law shall be implemented to the best interest of the victims and the Filipino people who survived martial law.” – Selda
By RONALYN V. OLEA
MANILA — After more than four decades of arduous struggle for justice, victims of martial law finally saw a ray of light.
On the 27th anniversary of the People Power 1 uprising, President Benigno Aquino III signed into law the Human Rights Victim Reparation and Recognition Act of 2013.
The law, the first of its kind in the world, provides $246 million in compensation for those who were persecuted by the dictatorship of Ferdinand E. Marcos.
The Samahan ng Ex-Detainees Laban sa Detensyon at Aresto (Selda), which led the filing of the historic class suit by the martial law victims against Marcos before a Hawaii court, welcomed the passage of a law confirming the atrocities and human rights violations under martial law.
“We dedicate this small victory to all martial law martyrs and heroes who have gone before us. We will continue to honor them, as we ensure that this law shall be implemented to the best interest of the victims and the Filipino people who survived martial law,” Selda said in a statement signed by its chairwoman Marie Hilao-Enriquez and its vice chairman Bonifacio Ilagan.
Enriquez, then a student activist, was arrested in October 1974 and imprisoned for two years. Her sister, Liliosa Hilao, was raped, severely tortured and killed by state agents.
Ilagan, on the other hand, was also detained for two years during martial law. His sister, Rizalina, along with nine fellow student activists, was abducted by alleged state agents in July 1977. Rizalina and some of her colleagues have never been found to this day.
“It is with pain and regret for us to witness the passage of this law at a time when many of our fellow victims and colleagues, who took part in the struggle against martial rule, have gone ahead of us,” Enriquez and Ilagan said.
Selda gave credit to all martial law survivors who never gave up in the face of difficulties. “Scores of members of the Philippine Congress, in cahoots with the Marcoses and the military who vehemently opposed the passage of the law, tried to block its passing. In some instances, they deliberately delayed the process or watered down the bill.”
The group also thanked progressive legislators who supported the victims, particularly Bayan Muna Representatives Neri Colmenares and Teddy Casiño, for “pursuing the most pro-victim provisions and consistently pushed for the approval of the bill.” They also thanked the support of Senators Francis Escudero and TG Guingona, and Representatives Edcel Lagman and Erin Tañada.
In a separate statement, Colmenares said: “This is a victorious day for those who have awaited and fought for the State’s recognition of their suffering under martial law.”
“This is a personal victory for me, too,” Colmenares said. He was only 17 at the time he was arrested and tortured during martial law. He was detained for four years.
Selda said the HRV Victims Claims Board should be composed of individuals who, in one way or another, know and can feel with the victims and have been involved in the struggle against the Marcos dictatorship.
The group challenged the government to ensure that the 9,539 complainants in the class suit will be included in the list and those who will consequently file their claims are those who were genuinely part of the struggle against martial law.
The group warned against unnecessary bureaucratic processes and scams.
For its part, the National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers (NUPL), an organization of human rights lawyers, vowed to closely monitor the implementation of the law. “We will not allow any government to toy with, much less disparage this endeavour to bring justice to our martyrs and the peoples for whom they laid their lives,” Edre Olalia, NUPL, secretary general, said.
Selda said the fight is not yet over. “…[T]here are still attempts to distort, sometimes even completely erase in the memory of our people, the dark days of the dictatorship. There are those among the architects of martial law who remain scot-free and unpunished. The most notorious culprits have been allowed to regain their political power and influence,” it said.
The NUPL added that the law “stakes out a warning to those who, posing as leaders, have no reason for existing but to steal, violate the peoples’ rights and trust, and to fodder servilely for foreign interests.”
Selda noted that 40 years after martial law, human rights violations continue to be committed, and with impunity.
“The Marcos laws and executive orders were retained by the succeeding administrations. The militarist mindset and fascist machinery remain intact especially with the continuous implementation of the US-backed counter-insurgency programs,” Selda said.