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Volume 3,  Number 24              July 20 - 26, 2003            Quezon City, Philippines


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Is Justice Near for Marcos’ Human Rights Victims?  

Victims of human rights violations under the Marcos dictatorship have been waiting for 12 years for the Hawaii Court verdict to be carried out. Finally, the Philippine Supreme Court issued a decision that forfeited one of the Marcos accounts as ill-gotten and from which indemnification for the victims can be sourced. Although for most of them money is not the issue, the slow compensation is but a symbol of the dysfunctional justice system in the country. 


The Samahan ng mga Ex-detainees Laban sa Detensyon at para sa Amnestiya  (SELDA), an organization of former political detainees mostly under the Marcos dictatorship, welcomed the July 15 Supreme Court decision declaring the $650 million ill-gotten wealth of the Marcoses as forfeited in favor of the state.

In a press conference held July 16 in Quezon City, Marie Hilao-Enriquez, SELDA secretary general and whose sister was raped and killed by soldiers during martial law, said that the SC ruling is not just the victory of human rights victims but of the Filipino people.

SELDA organizing committee chair Marivere San Antonio, martial law victims Trining Herrera and Rudy del Rosario, and lawyer Jayson Lamchek of the Public Interest Law Center were also present in the press conference.

In order to give justice for decades of injustice, the victims called for President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo to certify as urgent House Bill 4535, “an act providing compensation to the victims of human rights violations during the Marcos regime, and for other purposes.”

Chronicle of struggle

In an interview with Bulatlat.com, SELDA’s counsel Lamchek detailed the victims’ legal course.

SELDA filed a tort case¾partly criminal, partly civil¾in the U.S. District Court in Hawaii in April 1986 after Marcos’ exile.

In 1991, the U.S. Federal Court system ruled that Marcos was guilty of “crimes against humanity” which included torture, summary executions and forced disappearances. The decision ordered Marcos to pay human rights victims $1.2 billion for exemplary damages and $7.76 million for compensatory damages.

Robert Swift, the U.S. court-appointed lawyer, was the lead counsel of the 9,539 persons, called class plaintiffs, who charged Marcos of human rights violations. There were other victims who earlier filed cases, including Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) founder Jose Maria Sison, who filed a separate direct action suit with Atty. Romeo T. Capulong as counsel. The multi-district litigation was created after the various cases were consolidated into the class suit. 

Correspondingly, the Philippine government filed a case for the forfeiture of Marcos’ dummy foundations in Switzerland.

The foundations were Azio-Verso-Vibur Foundation, Chasis-Scolari-Valamo-Spinus-Avertina Foundation, Trinidad-Rayby-Palmy Foundation, Rosalys-Aguamina Foundation and Maler Foundation.

The Sandiganbayan ordered the forfeiture of the funds on Sept. 19, 2000.

In December 1997, the Swiss Federal Supreme Court released a “freeze order” of these accounts and held in escrow in the Philippines through Philippine National Bank (PNB).

The order was accompanied with two conditions for the compensation of the victims: a final judgment of a Philippine court establishing the nature the accounts as ill-gotten wealth and measures by the Philippine government to compensate the victims.

Despite favorable decisions by foreign courts, the compensation and recognition in the homeland proved difficult to obtain.

During the Ramos administration, Swift attempted to settle the case outside court.  The American lawyer proposed that the Marcoses pay victims and agreed that the government need not go after the alleged ill-gotten wealth anymore. 

On the other hand, PCGG under Magi Gunigundo I proposed the 75-25 compromise¾75 percent share of the government and 25 percent to the Marcoses.

During former President Joseph Estrada’s short term, Swift again entered into an agreement with the Philippine government through the $150 million settlement of the judgment debt of the Marcoses in the U.S. court. The agreement covered only one-third of the escrow account.

With Lamcheck, SELDA and other human rights groups filed their opposition at the Sandiganbayan. Former Solicitor General Frank Chavez also filed a separate opposition.

According to Lamchek, Sandiganbayan saw the agreement as “immoral, illegal and unconstitutional and that it would benefit the Marcoses and Swift more than the victims.”

In October 2001, Bayan Muna party list representatives filed House Bill (HB) 3797 which seeks to compensate martial law victims from the forfeited ill-gotten wealth of the Marcoses. Two other bills of the same purpose were pushed by the PCGG and Claimants 1081.

After discussions at the House Committee on Civil, Political and Human Rights, the three bills were consolidated into HB 4535.

HB 4535 is still in its second reading at the Lower House.

On Jan. 31, 2002, the High Court reversed its decision by stating that there was no prima facie evidence offered for summary judgment of ill-gotten wealth. It also said that there was no proof that the Marcos couple or any member of their family owned the money in the Swiss bank accounts.

The government then filed an appeal with the Supreme Court.

The Compensation Bill

Although human rights victims see hope from the Supreme Court decision, they are still uneasy with the status of their recognition and compensation.

This concern arises from the existence of the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Law (CARL). The law states that all recoveries of the Philippine Commission on Good Governance (PCGG) shall go to the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP). This means that the human rights victims compensation is not included in the appropriations of the ill-gotten wealth unless necessary amendments will be made.

Since Ramos administration, there are pending bills to amend the CARL to compensate the martial law victims.

One is HB 4535, also known as the “Human Rights Violations Victims Compensation Act of 2002.” When approved, HB 4535 will automatically repeal provisions of the HB 6657 or CARL inconsistent with it.

The bill also aims “to recognize the heroism of all Filipinos who were victims of summary execution, torture, involuntary disappearance and other gross human rights violations committed during the regime of former president Ferdinand Marcos during the period from 30 June 1965 to 25 February 1986.”

In the bill, the source of compensation may come from “one-third of the funds transferred through Swiss Federal Supreme Court order and presently held in escrow in the Philippines while waiting for the final and executory judgment of the civil case pending before the Sandiganbayan.”

Although no opposition was registered to the said bill, amendments by Rep. Imee Marcos were introduced by the “Ilocos bloc.”

The amendments would transform the bill into a generic one, accommodating not only human rights violations under the martial law but of all regimes.

Three issues were raised against the bill, specifically by Reps Salacnib Baterina of Ilocos Sur and Roque Ablan Jr. of Ilocos Norte. Brought up were questions of “equal protection” violated by “class legislation,” “non-delegation of legislative power” in determining eligibility to compensation and the non-existence of the fund where the compensation will come.

In the position paper of Bayan Muna, the issue of  “class legislation” is a mistaken belief that distinguishes martial law victims from other human rights victims. The party list stressed that the “Marcos victims legally form a class substantially distinct from other victims under other administrations” and that the Congress is allowed to limit the object of compensation provided that the classification is based on reasonable grounds.

Bayan Muna also said that “the bill is complete in all its terms and conditions and there are sufficient standards by which to enforce them.”

For the financial aspect, the SC recently decided on the ill-gotten wealth.

Meanwhile, Enriquez argued that Rep. Imee Marcos only wanted to clear their name with such amendments. The human right activist countered that it is useless since it was already established by the Hawaii court that Marcos was guilty of human rights violations.

“It looks like she is eradicating the historical role of the victims in overthrowing dictatorship,” Enriquez said.

Although confident with the bill since it was the product of the consensus of human rights groups, Enriquez said that if amendments will be made in the said bill, it should be based on the victims’ perspective not the congressmen’s.

HB 4535 is the substitute to HB Nos. 3048 and 3797 sponsored by Rep. Etta Rosales and Bayan Muna congressmen respectively.

If Marcos’s amendments will be incorporated, Bayan Muna¾co-author of the bill¾threatened to withdraw its sponsorship of the bill.


Enriquez cited three measures for the immediate compensation of the victims: pending bills HB 4535 and Sen. Joker Arroyo-sponsored Senate Bill 1877; the government (GRP) and National Democratic Front (NDF) agreement in 1998 to compensate victims of martial law supported by the Comprehensive Agreement on Respect for Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law (CARHRIHL); and the constitutional provision that the state is morally obligated to compensate human rights victims.

Despite the measures, “there was no official act in recognition of the victims, not even a case against the dictator,” she said

Meanwhile, in his paper, SELDA chairperson Danilo Vismanoz compared the status of the country’s human rights victims with other nations.

Apartheid victims in South Africa have achieved justice through the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) under the promotion of National Unity and Reconciliation in 1995.

Aside from financial, medical, and educational assistance to the victims and their relatives, TRC also provided symbolic reparation such as erection of monuments, declaration of a national day of remembrance, and obliteration of criminal records of those wrongly charged in the past.

In Argentina, victims of human rights violations were compensated in 1995. Institutional reform including administrative and legal actions was taken to prevent another human rights violation to happen again.

In Chile, the government-created National Commission on Truth and reconciliation (NCTR) initiated the reporting of human rights violations. This report became the basis for the moral and material compensation of the victims and their relatives. It also recommended specific measures to guard against human rights violations in the country and strengthen a human rights culture.

Vizmanos said that government officials “have not only remained insensitive and callous” when foreign governments already decided in favor of the victims.

“Instead of ameliorating the conditions of martial law victims, they are even conspiring to deny and restrict justice, basic constitutional rights, and human and civil rights of the people through the passage of an ‘anti-terrorism’ bill which is a crude imitation of the repressive ‘Patriot Act’ of the quasi-police state of Mr. Bush,” he said.

Vizmanos further said that the anti-terror bill “can only intensify the already acute contradictions in an unjust, oppressive, exploitative and repressive elite-dominated society and military-dominated state bureaucracy.”

In the same press conference, Rosario was a bit shocked with a reporter’s question on why the victims need to be compensated.

The martial law victim emphasized that compensation is a part of justice. “Not enough for the relatives of those who were killed,” he said, “not enough even for the period we were arrested and tortured, the time we should be working for our families.”

Enriquez shared that the little amount that the 9, 539 class plaintiffs would receive will be of less value considering the economic crisis and the high cost of living in the country.

Rosario claimed that even today’s officials might not be enjoying their positions if not for the victims’ efforts to topple the dictatorship.

San Antonio clarified that the victims and the government are not rivals on the ill-gotten wealth.

“We helped the government in pursuit of the ill-gotten wealth instead, since we are the only group who sued the dictator,” San Antonio said.

Herrera recalled that even before Macapagal-Arroyo became president, the latter promised to help the victims in their case.

“We are calling the attention of the president in her State of the Nation Address (SONA) to certify the bill as urgent, if she has political will,” Enriquez said. Bulatlat.com

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