MANILA - President Benigno Aquino III will likely sign the Human Rights Victims Reparation and Recognition Act of 2013 before February 25, the anniversary of the EDSA People Power which ousted the Marcos dictatorship.
Senator Francis Escudero calls it an auspicious time for the signing of the bill into law during the commemoration of the country's democratic restoration.
Ironically, it is also the 15th Congress – some of whom have links to the Marcos era – which passed the bill recognizing and making amends to human rights victims.
In an interview with ANC on Thursday, Escudero said Ilocos Norte Rep. Imelda Marcos and Senator Ferdinand Marcos Jr. never got involved in the crafting of the bill.
“They [Marcoses] did not participate in the debates. Perhaps, they consider it as conflict of interest. So they did not prevent the passage of the bill, ni hindi sila na-interpolate, hindi sila nag-amend,” he said.
He recalled he approached and asked the younger Marcos on his thoughts about the bill at the beginning of the 15th Congress. “He [Marcos Jr.] said, ‘I will have nothing to do with it. I will not prevent it, its passage. I will not interpolate and I will not ask questions. I don’t have anything to do with it.’”
Escudero himself has links to the Marcos era. His father, the late Sorsogon Rep. Salvador Escudero III, was once the minister of food and agriculture of former President Ferdinand Marcos.
While most of those linked to the Marcoses were called “cronies,” Escudero said his father was “more of a technocrat.”
Still, he chose not to author, but merely sponsor, the bill. “Although I was instrumental in its passage in the previous Congresses, I made the conscious decision not to be the one to file the bill. Because they may say I might be favoring one side over the other, that my ancestors had a colorful history with Marcos."
In fact, he said both father and son never got to talk about the bill. “I did not. And he did not also question nor have any position about it.”
JUSTICE FOR HR VICTIMS
Escudero said he had to work on the sidelines to prompt his colleagues to bring the bill to an advanced stage.
“I’ve been the chairman of the Committee on Justice since I entered Senate in 2007. And this has been an ongoing concern for the Committee on Justice since I became chairman six years ago, five years ago. At sayang, sampung bilyon, may pera naman. Hindi nagagalaw. Hindi pwedeng gamitin sa ibang bagay, aanhin natin ‘yung pera,” he said.
It’s about time that human rights victims be given what is due them, he added.
He sees several more stages before the victims and their families finally get their fair share of the P10 billion ill-gotten wealth recovered from the Marcoses, but added this should commence now.
The bill provides a two-year period within which to distribute the money, or "supposedly by 2014,” he said.
The bill creates the Human Rights Victims’ Claims Board, an independent and quasi-judicial body tasked with receiving, evaluating, processing and investigating the applications for monetary compensation.
President Benigno Aquino III will choose nine members, most likely human rights victims themselves.
The board will then draw up a “Roll of Human Rights Victims,” who will then be asked whether they will seek reparation or not. For compensation, the board will then use a point system depending on the severity of the abuses they experienced during the Marcos years.
LESS THAN P1M COMPENSATION
The bill dictates that the more than 9,500 plaintiffs in the litigation in Hawaii, which resulted in the P10 billion award, will be given “conclusive presumption” that they are human rights victims.
This means that they need not apply anymore before the board, Escudero explained. “All the rest need to apply. When you say apply, all you need to do is to file a sworn statement, an affidavit or any evidence or documents, picture na meron sila tapos ipa-file nila sa board.”
Roughly, the 9,500 plaintiffs will get, at most, P1 million. This is not a hard and fast rule, however.
Escudero explained this is not an equal sharing of sorts, considering the point system. Also, “habang nadadagdagan ‘yung aplikante, bumababa ‘yung share o parte ng bawat isa.”
He said Congress has put in place several safety nets to filter fraudulent claims, including a specific description of who is a human rights violation victim.
He said fraudulent claimants will be meted with a serious penalty, even exceeding those imposed on perjury cases.
“Pero babalaan ko lang din ‘yung mga nanonood siguro na may nilagay kaming karampatang parusa na medyo mabigat-bigat, kung hindi ako nagkakamali 6 na taon plus fine. Hindi ito mere perjury,” he said.
He explained that beyond the monetary reward is recognition in history, which the senator said is important. The “roll” of human rights victims will be publicly displayed, and their sacrifices will also be taught in schools.
He said confiscation of businesses is included in the definition of human rights violation, which would mean the Lopezes of ABS-CBN, which lost its broadcasting network during the Marcos years, can partake of the rewards.
Escudero believes, however, that the Lopezes will not anymore seek reparation.
“Pero sa pananaw at palagay namin, lumabas ‘yan sa diskusyon, dalawa ito eh, recognition and reparation. Malamang ‘yung mga may kaya, malamang they will seek recognition for their families or bereaved loved ones na nagdusa noong panahon ng martial law o nawalan ng negosyo noong panahon ng martial law. But I doubt. It was expressed during the committee hearing, we doubt, if they will seek reparation.”