P-NOY WANTS MORE FOR MARCOS VICTIMS

[PHOTO - AP Photo 3 months ago: Former American priest Edward Gerlock, who is among thousands seeking compensation against the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos, narrates his experience when he was arrested and detained, during the 38th anniversary of martial law Tuesday, Sept. 21, 2010 in suburban Quezon City]

MANILA, JANUARY 15, 2011 (STAR) By Aurea Calica – President Aquino supports efforts to provide more compensation for human rights victims during the regime of former President Ferdinand Marcos, in addition to $7.5 million that a United States court approved for distribution to more than 7,000 claimants that would received $1,000 each.

Malacañang also welcomed the decision of US District Judge Manuel Real despite the apparent small amount, describing it as more of a “vindication” for the thousands of victims of torture, execution and kidnapping under the Marcos regime.

But aside from this case, there are also pending bills in Congress seeking to grant funds for the martial law victims who filed a class action suit against Marcos for crimes against humanity.

“I have been supporting claims for compensation but an appropriate law must enable it,” Aquino said.

“I have made a lot of pronouncements as regards the compensation through the years. The gist of it is that it is just right for the state to help compensate the victims. The reason being that once upon a time the state set up to serve the people became (their) oppressor,” Aquino told The STAR in a text message.

House Deputy Speaker Lorenzo Tañada III, author of one of the pending bills, said the President had already stated that he wanted the bill passed under his administration.

“Although the amount may be small compared to the sufferings the victims and their families went through, it is an acknowledgment that human rights violations happened during the Marcos administration. This amount granted by the Hawaii court does not include the P10 billion transferred from the Swiss bank accounts regarding ill-gotten wealth. In other words, the human rights victims will be getting an additional amount once the law is passed,” Tañada said.

The US Federal District Court of Hawaii issued a ruling in September 1992 favoring the martial law victims and ordered the Marcoses to pay the victims almost $2 billion in damages.

The Swiss Supreme Court ordered in 1997 the transfer of the $540-million Swiss bank deposits of Marcos to an escrow account of the Philippine National Bank, in favor of the Philippine government, and in which the victims who filed the class suit in Hawaii would be considered by the government in the release of funds.

Since the account is interest bearing, it has already ballooned to P10.13 billion, according to the Department of Agrarian Reform.

The bills have been filed in the 10th Congress up to the 14th Congress where it even reached the bicameral conference committee.

Tañada, who chairs the technical working group created by the House justice committee to consolidate the bills providing compensation to the martial law victims, said he hopes to finish work on the bill by February and have a measure approved by the plenary in June.

Vindication

Deputy presidential spokesperson Abigail Valte told radio dzRB that Judge Real’s ruling that would allow the distribution of $1,000 each to 7,526 eligible members of the class-action lawsuit was a victory for the victims of the Marcos regime.

“In this case, considering that what is it now? It’s 2011 already, it was filed a long time ago. It’s also a vindication that really, a wrong was done to them,” Valte said.

“At this point, it’s no longer compensable in terms of money because of what happened to the victims. At this point, we are no longer talking about money but it’s a vindication. The fight here now is about principle. I understand that for some people, they are thinking that the $1,000 compensation for the victims or those that they left is not enough. But, at this point, we’d like to say that, again, it’s a vindication of the liability of the wrong that was done to these people,” Valte said.

The ruling provides the Marcos victims their first opportunity to collect something since they sued in 1986.

Under the plan approved by Real, distribution is expected to begin in mid-February and take about a month.

Robert Swift, lead attorney in the case, said the payments were an important milestone for victims who had been fighting for years. Most of the victims or their surviving family members live in the Philippines.

The funds come from a $10-million settlement of a case against individuals controlling Texas and Colorado land bought with Marcos money. Legal fees and a payment to the person who located the properties will consume most of the remaining $2.5 million of the settlement.

The victims’ payments will go a short way toward fulfilling a $2-billion judgment against the Marcos estate in 1995. A federal jury awarded the money after finding the late dictator liable for torture, summary executions and disappearances of political opponents during his 20-year rule.

The victims never received any funds until now, however, because of disputes over Marcos’ property. The Philippine government maintains all Marcos property was stolen from the Filipino people and has fought any distribution to victims of human rights violations, saying the law provides the money should go to the comprehensive agrarian reform program.

This latest case was an exception, however, because Manila had already settled its own claim against the people who control the land in Colorado and Texas.

Swift said his team was still pursuing an additional $70 million in Marcos assets through courts in New York and Singapore.

The class-action lawsuit was filed in Hawaii because Marcos fled to Honolulu to live in exile after he was deposed in the “people power” revolution of 1986.

Marcos died in exile in 1989 without admitting any wrongdoing.

Swift said the case was groundbreaking in that it was the first class-action lawsuit filed anywhere in the world for human rights violations.

Meanwhile, a lawyer of the victims of martial law has described the recent approval of a federal judge in the United States of the distribution of the $7.5 million or $1,000 as settlement for each victim as a favorable decision.

“This is a propitious moment in the eyes of the world particularly the thousands of victims of human rights violations in the Philippines. At long last, they will receive, though a token amount compared to their immeasurable sufferings for years, compensation long due them. This is only the initial payment as more are expected in the near future,” said Rod C. Domingo Jr., Filipino counsel of victims of human rights violations during the Marcos dictatorship.

The amount the victims or their close relatives will receive is $1,000 each or its equivalent in our local currency, available after 30 days barring any unexpected legal obstacles “which we do not foresee at the present time,” said Domingo.

Domingo said the details of distribution would be formulated and announced accordingly in a couple of weeks.

“We also are pleasantly surprised that Malacañang has welcomed the good news and considered the matter a good development and a triumph of the poor and the oppressed who have patiently waited for this event,” said Domingo. With Sandy Araneta


Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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