‘HR law to right wrongs of the past’
MANILA, Philippines – The only son of two of the most prominent victims of Ferdinand Marcos’ regime signed a landmark law yesterday, providing compensation for human rights victims of the dictatorship.
President Aquino, whose father Benigno was assassinated by state forces in 1983, signed Republic Act 10368 or the Human Rights Victims Reparation and Recognition Act of 2013.
The law will award P10 billion, sourced mainly from the Marcoses’ deposits in Swiss banks, to about 10,000 victims.
RA 10368 seeks to “right the wrongs of the past,” President Aquino said.
Compensation will be based on the extent of injuries. A point system of distributing the funds will be spelled out in greater detail in the implementing rules and regulations that will be released soon.
“The law itself provides a point system. There will be of course the board that will be determining the claimants, and based on that point system they will be able to determine how much a person will be entitled to,” presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda said.
The signing of the law – exactly 27 years after the ouster of dictator Ferdinand Marcos in a bloodless military-backed popular uprising – is also considered an official recognition of the atrocities committed during the regime, largely by security forces.
Marcos and his relatives and cronies are accused of plundering up to $10 billion. So far, the government has recovered about $4 billion.
“We may not bring back the time stolen from martial law victims, but we can assure them of the state’s recognition of their sufferings that will help bring them closer to the healing of their wounds,” Aquino said.
Among the factors to be considered in determining individual compensation are period of detention, degree of torture or sexual abuse, among others.
“There is a determination of award. There is a point system and it shall range from one to 10 points,” Lacierda said.
“Victims who died or disappeared or are still missing shall be given 10 points, while those tortured and/or raped or sexually abused shall be entitled to six to nine points; victims who suffered detention shall be given three to five points; victims whose rights were violated shall be given one to two points.
“And there will be an IRR that will be drafted and perhaps put in finer detail how this computation of the point system shall be done,” Lacierda said.
The law also provides for the creation of the Human Rights Violations Victim’s Memorial Commission, whose task is to heighten the youth’s awareness – through education – of the excesses of the Marcos regime as well as the heroism of those who fought it.
Presidential Commission on Good Government (PCGG) chairman Andres Bautista said RA 10368 “addresses not only past mistakes but endeavors to ensure that these mistakes never happen again.”
“The P10-billion fund which will be sourced from the Marcos Swiss bank accounts successfully repatriated back to the Philippines by the PCGG in 2003 is definitely being put to good use,” he said.
In a speech delivered at the People Power monument on EDSA in Quezon City, Aquino thanked Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile and Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr. for shepherding the measure. He also lauded House Deputy Speaker Lorenzo Tañada III – one of the main authors of the law – for patiently working for the approval of the bill.
“Now that the victims are being recognized for their sufferings, it is time to declare ‘never again’ to martial law. If we have tuwid na daan, we should also have tuwid na kasaysayan in order to prevent a wrong presentation of history,” Tañada said.
Tañada’s father and grandfather, Wigberto and Lorenzo Sr., were themselves victims of martial law.
Loretta Ann Rosales, an anti-Marcos activist who was tortured by his security forces and now heads the Human Rights Commission, said the law would finally allow all his victims to feel a sense of justice.
“The law is essential in rectifying the abuses of the Marcos dictatorship and obliges the state to give compensation to all those who suffered gross violations of their rights,” Rosales said.
Under the law, a compensation board will accept and evaluate applications for reparations over the next six months, according to Rosales.
Marie Hilao-Enriquez, chair of the Samahan ng mga Ex-Detainees Laban sa Detensyon at Aresto or SELDA, also welcomed the symbolic intent behind the law but said the money was too little to have a meaningful impact.
“There are so many victims that when you divide it to everyone it will not result to much,” Hilao-Enriquez said.
SELDA represents about 10,000 documented victims but she said there were many more who had not been officially registered and may now come forward, such as Muslim communities in Mindanao.
“This is another victory of the martial law victims in
their continuing struggle for justice. Through their relentless efforts, finally and officially recognized are the heroism and sacrifices of all Filipinos who fought the dictatorship and were victims of human-rights violations – summary execution, torture, enforced disappearances and all other gross forms of violations,” SELDA said in a statement. “They faced adversity, but took the courage to stand up and defend, not only theirs, but the people’s rights.”
For some lawmakers who fought the Marcos dictatorship, the signing of RA 10368 completed the “trilogy” of landmark human rights laws in the country.
Albay Rep. Edcel Lagman and Bayan Muna Rep. Neri Colmenares, in separate statements, hailed President Aquino’s signing of the law but called on Malacañang to make sure the new law is strictly implemented.
The two other landmark human rights laws are the Anti-Torture Act of 2009 or RA 9745 and the Anti-Enforced or Involuntary Disappearance Act of 2012 or RA 10353, Lagman said.
Lagman’s brother, human rights and labor lawyer Hermon Lagman, disappeared on May 11, 1977. His family never found him despite incessant efforts to locate him in military camps. The Albay lawmaker said they have not decided if they would accept compensation.
Colmenares said he considered the enactment of the compensation law a personal victory, citing his experience of torture at the hands of the military as well as his four-year detention as a 17-year old student leader.
“At last the long wait for the martial law victims is over. This is a victorious day for those who have awaited and fought for the state’s recognition of their suffering under martial law,” Colmenares said.
“Many years after the Hawaii court recognized us, our own government recognized us,” he said, referring to the ruling of the US court to grant compensation to nearly 10,000 victims of human rights violations during the regime of the late strongman Marcos.
“The overall message of this recognition is that martial law must never happen again, or is a call for vigilance – the people must not let it happen again,” he added.
Colmenares also said he would have given to his mother whatever compensation he would receive had she lived long enough to see the law passed and implemented.
“She did suffer a lot during my torture and four-year imprisonment, so I would have willingly given it to her, but she died last year. I guess I would have to give my share nalang to the SELDA,” he said.
He said his mother wanted to do repairs on their house in Bacolod City. He added that it might also be ethically questionable for him to accept compensation since lawmakers are not supposed to financially benefit from legislation enacted during their term.
Unlike Colmenares, another human rights victim turned lawmaker said he would be very happy to accept compensation.
“I was a detainee in Bicutan in 1978. Yes, I will accept. It is a moral victory on my part,” Iloilo Rep. Jerry Treñas told The STAR. Treñas belongs to the ruling Liberal Party. Colmenares said Bayan Muna colleague and The STAR columnist Satur Ocampo had been removed from the compensation list by lawyers of the Marcoses.
“We will insist that he be included in the list of human rights victims in recognition of his sacrifices during martial law,” he said.
By compensating human rights victims, the government is officially recognizing their sacrifices, senators said yesterday.
“While it took all of 27 years for the state to finally recognize the atrocities it inflicted on Filipinos whose democratic rights were suppressed under Marcos, the compensation law seeks to give justice to victims of the dark days of oppression and hopefully give an assurance that it will not happen again,” Sen. Francis Escudero said.
“As one of the co-authors of this law, I personally see this as a recognition of the heroism that was widespread during martial law: a heroism that rang across hills and blazed through the streets of this country,” Sen. Teofisto Guingona III said.
Even the late dictator’s son and namesake described the law as “reasonable” and “imbued with compassion.”
But Sen. Bongbong Marcos said the government should also find ways to compensate other human rights victims after the 1986 revolution.
“It is only when we remember the atrocities, the injustice, and the abuses that went on in our past that we, as a nation, can continue to fight against attempts to resurrect these evils. Our memory of martial law, kept alive and strong, will ensure that we will never have to suffer the same fate ever again,” Guingona added.
Sen. Loren Legarda said the people should continue to fight for human rights without trampling on the rights of others.
“We must support ways by which we can protect and uphold our democracy,” she said.
“We must protect freedom of speech. We should ensure honesty, transparency and accountability of government officials, thus we must have freedom of information,” Legarda stressed.
Sen. Alan Peter Cayetano, for his part, said the government should sustain the “momentum of change” so that every Filipino can realize the full benefits of democracy.
He said the benefits of EDSA would only be fully realized if economic opportunities become acccessible to the majority of Filipinos.
For Sen. Francis Pangilinan, the signing of the landmark compensation law on the anniversary of the People Power Revolution of 1986 “serves as a reminder for us Filipinos to never take for granted the freedom that we now enjoy.”
Pangilinan said Filipinos born after the revolution must be constantly reminded of the excesses of the Marcos regime.
“It is our duty to remind this generation of what transpired. We must never allow this part of our history to be trivialized nor the facts twisted by those who seek to be cleansed of their transgressions against the Filipino people. Never again, indeed,” Pangilinan said. – With Paolo Romero, Jess Diaz, Alexis Romero, Christina Mendez, Rhodina Villanueva, Rainier Allan Ronda