MANILA - Former Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile on Friday drew controversy after he denied killings and thousands of arrests during the regime of the late strongman Ferdinand Marcos.
In a tête-à-tête with Marcos' namesake son, Ferdinand "Bongbong" Marcos Jr., Enrile claimed that "very few" of the dictator's critics were arrested during martial rule and that they were detained for “criminal acts.”
"They claimed that we killed a lot of people. when I was interviewed by someone some time ago, I challenged her: name me one that we executed, we killed except [drug lord] Lim Seng," the 94-year-old former lawmaker said.
But just five years ago, Enrile, as then Senate President, signed the law granting reparation to martial law victims - an implicit recognition of abuses during what many regard as one of nation's darkest days.
Enrile affixed his signature on the “Human Rights Victims Reparation and Recognition Act of 2013," a law that former President Benigno Aquino III signed on Feb. 25, 2013.
The measure was signed on the day of the 27th commemoration of the EDSA People Power revolution, the movement which toppled the Marcos dictatorship.
A copy of the law shows Enrile's signature alongside that of then House Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr., Aquino, and secretaries of the two chambers of Congress.
Through Republic Act 10368, the Philippine government recognized "the heroism and sacrifices of all Filipinos who were victims of summary execution, torture, enforced or involuntary disappearance and other gross human rights violations" under the Marcos regime.
"The State hereby acknowledges its moral and legal obligation to recognize and/or provide reparation to said victims and/or their families for the deaths, injuries, sufferings, deprivations and damages they suffered under the Marcos regime," the law states.
It also created the Human Rights Victims' Claims Board, which handed out reparations to victims of Marcos' martial rule.
The reparation came from the P10 billion Marcos deposits (originally US$356 million) turned over by the Swiss Federal Supreme Court to the Philippine government in 1997.
Swiss authorities froze $356 million stashed by the Marcoses in Swiss banks after the regime fell in 1986.
In his interview with the younger Marcos, released online on the eve of the 46th anniversary of the martial law declaration, Enrile, among the most enduring figures in Philippine politics, also said people were "free" during martial law.
He denied the allegation that authorities arrested 70,000, saying: "Maybe if they will include people who violated curfew and jaywalker, maybe you can reach that number. People can go out at night, they can go out and fish, go out and farm. They were free in fact."