PALACE:  P8 BILLION  FOR  FM  VICTIMS

MANILA, February 7, 2005 (STAR) By Marvin Sy  -  Some P8 billion has been earmarked by the government as indemnity for the nearly 10,000 human rights victims who suffered under the Marcos dictatorship, Presidential Spokesman Ignacio Bunye said yesterday.

Bunye said the P8 billion will come from some $683 million recovered by the government from the Marcos estate. However, Congress must first pass a law that will allow the government to do that.

It was the first time Malacañang put a figure on how much the victims should receive as indemnity.

In a radio interview yesterday, Bunye reiterated the commitment Mrs. Arroyo made last year to indemnify the 9,500 human rights victims.

Mrs. Arroyo, however, earlier said she would leave it up to Congress to decide how much the victims should receive as compensation.

Bunye said the victims can receive compensation once Congress passes a bill amending the agrarian reform law.

Under the law, stolen government money recovered from the Marcoses and their cronies must be used to fund the government’s agrarian reform program.

"What is needed is the passage of the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program law because according to the original intention of the law, whatever wealth is recovered from the Marcos family will be used for CARP," Bunye said.

"However, the President recognizes the need to indemnify the human rights victims. So on the part of the executive branch (of government), the amount has been earmarked and all that is needed is for Congress to pass the law," he said.

A bill is currently pending in the Senate and in the House of Representatives for that purpose.

$200 Million Proposed

However, the compensation proposed in the Senate bill is $200 million, or roughly P11 billion, according to Sen. Joker Arroyo, who co-authored the measure with Senators Sergio Osmeña III and Aquilino Pimentel Jr.

Bunye did not say why the indemnity earmarked the government is smaller than that proposed in the bill.

The $200 million will also come from $683 million believed stolen by Marcos and his wife Imelda and recovered by the Philippine government last year after 18 years of arduous litigation.

Under the proposed legislation, a board would be formed to evaluate victims’ claims and determine how much they should receive based on the gravity of the abuse suffered.

Despite losing a legal battle in the United States in their quest to seek compensation from the estate of the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos, the 9,500 human rights victims can still be indemnified once the bill is passed, Arroyo said.

A US appeals court ruled last Friday that the 9,500 plaintiffs, most of them still living in the Philippines, can’t recover the $683 million, dealing the plaintiffs a major legal setback.

Those who sued the Marcoses in Hawaii and others who never filed a claim "would both have the same rights and standing" before the board as proposed in the Senate bill, Arroyo said.

"So all is not lost with the human rights victims despite the decision of the 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals overturning a prior judgment in their favor rendered by a Honolulu district court," he said.

The plaintiffs filed a class-action lawsuit against the Marcos estate in 1986 in Hawaii. Marcos and his family fled to Hawaii, where he died in exile in 1989.

In 1995, using a two-century-old US law, a Honolulu jury awarded plaintiffs $2 billion after finding Marcos responsible for summary executions, disappearances and torture.

The plaintiffs have not collected from that judgment, which is now close to $4 billion with interest, and have been awarded a combined $40 million from Marcos assets found in a New York bank. That award is on appeal.

Lawyers for the plaintiffs argued that the $683 million transferred from the Swiss account to the Philippine National Bank (PNB) should have been awarded to their clients.

The Philippine government argued the money was part of the national treasury, a decision the Philippine Supreme Court agreed with in 2003 when it ordered PNB to forward the money to the government.

On Friday, a three-judge panel of the San Francisco-based 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that American courts have no legal right to overturn a foreign country’s supreme court — despite the plaintiffs’ 1995 jury award in Honolulu.

The appeals court has jurisdiction over Hawaii and eight other western states.

The Marcoses allegedly stole up to $10 billion, according to the Philippine government.

State investigators discovered $356 million allegedly stashed in secret Swiss bank accounts by the Marcoses shortly after they were toppled by the People Power revolt in 1986.

Switzerland froze the funds — which ballooned to at least $680 million over the years — and later transferred the amount to an escrow account with PNB in 1997 to await a Philippine court ruling on their rightful ownership.

On Jan. 14 last year, the Supreme Court rejected with finality a Marcos petition trying to block the fund transfer.

It ruled that the $684 million should be forfeited to the government because the Marcos family "failed to justify the lawful nature of… acquisition" of the money.

Victory Against The Dictatorship

Akbayan party-list Rep. Loretta Ann Rosales said the decision of the US court is actually a victory for the victims and the Filipino people against the Marcos estate.

Rosales, chairwoman of the House of Representatives’ committee on human rights, said the ruling simply recognized the 2003 decision of the Philippine Supreme Court that the money was stolen from the government.

Akbayan hailed the Supreme Court ruling as a "big step in the people’s pursuit of justice against the Marcos regime," Rosales said.

A bill seeking to indemnify the human rights victims is likewise pending in the House.

Rosales said the House and Senate bills are premised on the recognition that the state has a legal and moral obligation to compensate the human rights victims, in accordance with the Constitution and with international human rights conventions and covenants to which the Philippines is a party.

"It must not be seen as an act of charity out of the goodness of the heart of the government," she said. "In the meantime, the pursuit of the victims for justice in the Hawaii case continues as they seek out assets of the Marcos estate wherever these are found…"

Rosales said the human rights victims will get justice either from a US court or through the compensation bills. — With Jess Diaz, Paolo Romero


Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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