Krusada: Human rights victims

By Nathalie Blanco, Multimedia producer, Krusada

Posted at Mar 12 2011 03:52 PM | Updated as of Mar 15 2011 02:45 AM

Anchor: Henry Omaga Diaz

The Filipino people victoriously ended former President Ferdinand Marcos’ 14-year dictatorship in the country after the first bloodless revolution coined “EDSA People Power” in 1986.

But as the dark regime ceased, the whole nation was left to face the consequences of the anomalies, corruption and violence perpetrated by the previous administration. The succeeding governments struggled to take back billions of ill-gotten wealth while the human rights victims filed their cases—all in the name of justice.

As the nation celebrates the 25th anniversary of the triumphant EDSA I, Krusada, together with ABS-CBN Correspondent Henry Omaga Diaz, sought to encourage politicians in helping the Martial Law human rights victims obtain their much-awaited compensation and finally get justice that has been long-overdue.

The Voices of EDSA I

“Yoyong” was just 25 years old during the Martial Law era. Despite the extreme system of the Marcos dictatorship, he remained brave and idealistic. At that time, he was fighting for the ownership of their land in Quezon City which was also being claimed by another prominent family.

Yoyong was determined to win their land despite his wife’s precautions. When he was seized by the military, he was taken into a safe house for interrogation. While he was being interrogated, he was being beaten if he answers on the negative. Before the said “interrogation” ended, he was accused of being a member of Partido Komunista Pilipina. Yoyong denied all the accusations but he was not released until he admitted.

Since Yoyong would not confess of being part of the subversive group, he was tortured by electrocution and water cure. When he can no longer take the suffering, he finally admitted in being a communist—to his torturers’ satisfaction. After his admission, he was sent to jail.

Attorney Rene Saguisag recalls that there were strict rules, curfews, and arresting innocent civilians became a normal fare. More than two people cannot come together at once. Subversive documents are vehemently prohibited.

He further accounts that during martial law, the police and military were combined. The power was absolute to the point where there no longer any form of control. Thousands of Filipinos were arrested without formal charges, tortured until death, imprisoned without trial. Forced disappearances were widespread. The lives of even the ordinary Filipinos were corrupted by that power.

Saguisag firmly believes that “it is going be expensive to violate human rights grossly; you have to pay the price. A lesson will be served to future kleptocrats and dictators.”

The victims did not foresee however, that it would take more than two decades for justice to prevail. The violations committed against them were extremely documented and blatant; and yet their crusade for compensation and the Marcoses admission of injustice still continues.

The Class Suit

The victims were able to press charges against Marcos regardless of the fact that he and his family fled to Hawaii during the last day of the EDSA People Power. While the human rights violations were made in the country, the Philippine courts have no jurisdiction over the case because Marcos was already in the United States.

Fortunately for the complainants, the 1979 Alien Tort Statute allowed them to sue Marcos. The class suit was filed on April 1986. Attorney Bob Swift represented the victims.

The Marcos family attempted to stop the case to no avail. When the former dictator died in 1989, the trial still pushed trough.

When the class suit against the late Ferdinand Marcos was being filed in court, around 10,000 victims signed up. More than 7,500 were validated.

In 1997, the Federal Court of Switzerland ordered the transfer of US$540 million to the Philippines from the deposited wealth by the Marcos family in Swiss Banks.

In 2003, P32 billion were transferred to the Philippine’s National Treasury from the Marcos Swiss accounts—P10 billion are especially allocated for the martial law human rights victims.

Clearly, these are two major victories for the claimants. Various international courts have sided on them and an estimate of P98 billion is currently designated for their compensation. However, their battles have not ended—there is another legal issue. According to the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Law enacted during the administration of the late former president Corazon Aquino, all the reacquired ill-gotten wealth must proceed to agrarian reforms.

The Marcos Compensation Bill

The Marcos Compensation Bill has already been in the Congress for over ten years. The said bill has been approved by the House of Representatives and the

Senate, and presently awaits the final approval from the Bicameral Committee.

As claimants, partylist representatives Satur Ocampo and Etta Rosales pushed for the Marcos Compensation Bill. However, they suspected that the administration of Gloria Macapacal-Arroyo curtailed it.

Five versions of the bill are now filed in Congress. Congressmen are hoping for the incumbent president Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III’s support despite the 15 priority bills requested by the administration.

Erin Tañada, Head of the Technical Working Group of the compensation bill, says that the president is "supportive of it, add to the fact that the Aquino family is also a victim of martial law. ” They are optimistic that the bill will be passed under the Aquino term. He further says that "according to PNoy, we really need a closure to this.”

In the following weeks, over 7,000 human rights victims will receive their compensation, including Yoyong.

The said money will not come from the National Treasury but from the wealth the government settled with Marcos’ past crony, the Campos family.

Judge Manuel Real of Honolulu, Hawaii ordered the distribution of US$7.5 million surrendered by the Camposes. Each claimant under the list of Robert Swift will receive around US$1,000 or P44,000.

Krusada and Henry Omaga Diaz continue to strive for human rights as well as for the just compensation of the martial law victims. In the end, every Filipino should give value to the silent heroes of EDSA I as they are the ones responsible for the freedom of democracy being experienced today. February 24, 2011