Marcos human rights victims to get $1,500 each more, but where are they now?

Gerry Lirio, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Jan 18 2019 11:59 PM

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They're entitled to a fourth round of indemnification in May, but the men and women who fought and endured the 20-year Marcos dictatorship may no longer be there to get additional reparation. 

American human rights lawyer Robert Swift who, along with the late Filipino lawyer-broadcaster Jose Marie Velez, filed and won a class suit in 1986 against the late strongman Ferdinand Marcos' victims, was in town this week to reach out to the human rights victims, then almost 10,000 in number.

In an interview with ABS-CBN News, Swift said his visit was part of the preparations to release checks worth US$13.75 million (around P716.3 million) beginning May 1 in various distribution points around the world, including 10 in the Philippines, mostly in Mindanao. 

7,500 victims only

It would be the fourth of such payouts, the first two by Swift and third one by the government as part of the P10-billion compensation package in 2018.

But when Swift distributes the checks in May, how many will come forward to claim theirs? This time, Swift can give checks to 7,500 victims, or $1,500 (around P78,150) for each.

When the class suit was filed in Hawaii in 1986, there were 9,353 claimants. All of them recounted their nightmares in the Hawaii litigation, if only to prove they suffered during the dictatorship, but it was like being tortured all over again. 

The claimants later quarreled among themselves, splitting them into two groups—Claimants 1081 and the Samahan ng ex-Detainees Laban sa Detensyon at Aresto or Selda.

After winning the case, the victims received only partial compensation in measly amounts that were sourced from a discovered hidden asset once held by Marcos crony Jose Campos, and from the sale of a Claude Monet’s "Le Bassin aux Nympheas" painting, part of Monet's 'Water Lilies' series, that Imelda’s loyal aide Vilma Bautista sold to a collector for $10 million in 2013 at a London Gallery.

Selda’s account

When Swift first distributed proceeds in the sale of a Campos property in 2011, he gave away $1,000 each to 7,526 victims only. The rest of the 9,539 victims, who failed to respond to Swift’s call to organize, were “delisted,” went home empty handed, feeling betrayed and forsaken.

In its own chronology, Selda alleged anomalies in the delisting process, among them: six of the 1986 original plaintiffs did not find their names on the list; a senator who was an ex-detainee but never filled up the form during the 1986-1989 documentation period was given a check; in almost all distribution centers, hundreds of claimants who received notices in 1993-94 and/or in 1999 were not on the list, but many more who did not receive any notices in 1993-94/1999 were given checks due to personal interventions by powerful claimants.

In 2014, Swift again distributed $1,000, but only to 6,000 victims. The others again didn’t get any because they “failed to respond” to Swift’s call to register.

Fake claimants

“Some recipients were happy when they got the checks,” Swift recalled. “But that’s too little if you think how the dictatorship destroyed their lives.”

No one really knows for sure how many people suffered during the dictatorship. Leaders believed that there were more than 9,539, as many have chosen to fade into the night, unwilling to recall their ordeal. The government attracted over 70,000 claimants for its P10-billion compensation package, with government investigators calling hundreds of claims unsubstantiated. 

Swift’s data base

Since 1986, Swift has maintained a data base of all the 9,539 victims, which the government didn’t bother to explore. But over time, even Swift’s team has encountered various problems with claimants, including those whom they left behind, according to his local partner, human rights lawyer Rod Domingo.

A generation has passed and many survivors couldn’t be located. Some of the descendants gave conflicting claims who among them was the rightful heir. In the 1990s, around 100 of the victims were reported dead, the rest suffering from geriatric ailments, ranging from diabetes to hypertension. Many of them suffered abuse, if not killed, in succeeding administrations.

Gov't gets $4 million

Swift said the $13.75 million will come from the proceeds in the sale of four paintings—one by Claude Monet, leader of the French impressionist movement, and three others sold in auction last November for over $3 million.

Surprisingly, the Philippine government, which refused to implement the Hawaii court’s verdict awarding the victims with a $2-billion indemnification package charged against the Marcos estate, would get $4 million, also in May, as provided for by the New York court ruling on the sale of the paintings.

(To date, the total claims of the martial law victims on the Marcos estate have ballooned to $4.3 billion based on the two favorable orders Judge Manuel Real of Hawaii issued in January 1995 and January 2011, as a result of penalties and interests earned from $1.964 billion and $353.6 million, respectively. “There are more than $4 billion unsatisfied on the 1995 judgment and more than $350 million unsatisfied on the 2011 judgment,” Swift told ABS-CBN News in an email last June 19.)

“So sad, the Philippine courts have not recognized historic judgement of martial law class suit by the US court," Swift told ABS-CBN news in the interview last Thursday.

A third party known as the Golden Buddha Corporation and the estate of Roger Roxas--the man who allegedly discovered the Yamashita treasure in Baguio City, which Marcos allegedly seized in the 1970s--will get $3 million also this May.

All the three paintings are believed to have been part of some 200 art collections Imelda accumulated over her husband’s 20-year regime.