Akbayan Rep. Loreta Ann Rosales has found herself in a hot seat for pushing a consolidated bill in the House that, according to the leading human rights alliance Selda, will end all expectations by human rights victims of justice and indemnification.
BY AUBREY SC MAKILAN
The Society of Ex-Detainees Against Detention and for Amnesty or SELDA (literally meaning prison cell), the organization of former political prisoners under Martial Law, which initiated and won a class action suit against the Marcos family before the U.S. Federal Court, hit the Committee on Civil, Political and Human Rights of the House for recommending a bill that is anti-human rights and which disregards the victory won by the victims in the suit.
Selda secretary general Marie Hilao-Enriquez criticized Akbayan Party-list Rep. Loreta Ann Rosales, chair of the Committee on Civil, Political and Human Rights of the Congress, for recommending House Bill 3315 (An Act Providing Compensation to Victims of Human Rights Violations during the Marcos Regime, Documentation of Said Violations, Appropriating Funds therefore and for Other Purposes). Hilao-Enriquez said that HB 3315 does not reflect the just demands of the victims of the Marcos dictatorship. The bill supposedly consolidates Akbayan’s HB 1319 and Bayan Muna’s HB 2962.
The bill, according to Hilao-Enriquez, has objectionable provisions and “deliberate exclusions,” she added.
First, the proposed bill is discriminatory and anti-human rights. Among the victims of serious physical injury, torture, or killings it seeks to compensate only those who were “peacefully” exercising their civil or political rights. Selda has objected to the inclusion of the word “peacefully” even in the previous versions of the bill. Yet, it was still included in HB 3315.
Hilao-Enriquez said that none of the human rights principles specifies the manner by which a person is to exercise his/her rights, and Rosales should have known that being the Committee’s chairperson. Aside from excluding those who took up arms or engaged in other forms of struggle against the dictatorship, which may not fall under the category of “peaceful” means, this provision by implication allows the practice of torture or killings of prisoners of war.
“It’s very basic and she (Rosales) should have studied it first or at least researched about it,” Hilao-Enriquez said. “Or it seemed that her lawyer did not study his lessons.”
Second, the bill, according to SELDA, does not recognize the victory won by the victims in the class action suit against the Marcos family. By failing to recognize the victory of the victims, the bill will make the victims undergo another series of submission of affidavits and documentation, interviews, etc.
“It is just like making them relive their traumatic experiences all over again,” said Hilao-Enriquez, “Do they not trust the rigorous processes of the U.S. Federal Court, which already studied the documentation and affidavits and conducted interviews on the victims?”
Third, while specifying that the chairperson of the Independent Board of Compensation for Victims of Human Rights Violations be a retired justice of the Supreme Court and that two of its members be representatives of human rights non-government organizations, the proposed bill gives the power of appointing these three members, out of the five, to the President. The other two members, as stipulated in the proposed bill, will be the chairperson of the Commission on Human Rights and the secretary of the Department of Justice. This excludes the victims of human rights violations under Marcos from being represented in the Board. And since the President has the power to appoint, she may appoint people out of political expediency, which she is wont to do, or purposely exclude those who are critical of her administration, according to Hilao-Enriquez.
Ignoring the victims
In a statement, Rosales said the consolidated bill underwent a series of deliberations both at the technical working group and committee levels and was even attended by the claimants’ representatives.
Hilao-Enriquez said otherwise. She recalled that the claimants were satisfied with the consolidated bill they came up with during the previous Congress. Sponsored by Bayan Muna Party-list, the bill, in its entirety, was deemed satisfactory by the victims. Contrary to Rosales statement, she told Bulatlat that they were not represented in the deliberations, they were merely asked to attend.
In fact, Hilao-Enriquez added, “Nowhere in the bill was there any mention of the historic landmark case the victims have won, when in fact, it is because of that case that we have arrived at this bill today.”
Rosales said that it was Presidential Commission on Good Governance (PCGG) Chair Haydee Yorac who “correctly advised the Committee that there cannot be a conclusive presumption that the plaintiffs in the Hawaii case are HRV victims for purposes of the bill.”
The indemnification of human rights victims under the Marcos dictatorship continues to be a major issue in the peace negotiations between the Government of the Philippines and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (GRP-NDFP).
In an email interview, NDFP Chair Luis Jalandoni said the “blatant trampling” on the rights of the 9,539 plaintiffs grossly violates the Part III Respect for Human Rights, Article 5 of the Comprehensive Agreement on Respect for Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law (CARHRIHL): “The Parties hereby respect and support the rights of the victims of human rights violations during the Marcos regime, taking into consideration the final judgment of the United States Federal Court System in the Human Rights Litigation Case Against Marcos; Senate Resolution 1640; Swiss Supreme Court Decision of 10 December 1997; and pertinent provisions of the U.N. Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the 1984 U.N. Convention Against Torture.”
Aside from not being recognized, Hilao-Enriquez added, their recommendation regarding the process of compensation was even ignored. For the speedy indemnification, Selda recommended to give priority to the 9,539 class plaintiffs by giving 50 percent of the funds for the victims. Since the U.S Federal Court already recognized them, they would only have to bring identification papers.
Aside from being ignored, the victims, according to Hilao-Enriquez were even excluded from being members of the Board, which is tasked to process the claims.
The intention of the bill to exclude a representative of the victims because of a seeming conflict of interest even surpasses the meticulousness of the Supreme Court (SC), said Bayan Muna lawyer Neri Colmenares. The SC merely asks a justice, whose relatives are involved in a case, to inhibit him or herself.
The bill penalizes those who will be found to have filed “fraudulent and malicious claims.” If convicted, one will be imprisoned for eight to 10 years and/or pay a fine of not less than P50, 000 but not more than P500, 000.
This provision, according to Hilao-Enriquez, would discourage victims from filing complaints, especially those who do not have enough papers to support their claims. “Where have you seen a bill principally laid on a framework of doubt?” she asked.
Hilao-Enriquez added that the reason for not recognizing the claimants in the class action suit for the reason that the bill should not be an “enforcement of a foreign judgment” or because of the issue “sovereignty” is laughable.
She angrily said that the Hawaii complainants were authentic because when they filed the class action suit, nobody expected to be compensated. In fact their original intention was to show to the world that then President Ferdinand Marcos was a human rights violator.
“If any of the victims was a fake would s/he be a fool as to risk being subjected to military surveillance after submitting his/her name as claimant even as we believed then that there is no hope of being compensated?,” she argued.
Meanwhile, the victims fear that the money meant to compensate them may already be dissipated.
PCGG Information Officer Nick Suarez confirmed the transfer of the $ 684 million (approximately PhP38 billion) held in an escrow account at the Philippine National Bank (PNB) to the National Treasury in March last year. Selda fears that the fund, which was transferred at the height of the campaign for the presidential elections, may have been used by the Arroyo administration.
This issue has been raised by the victims during the committee hearing on Nov. 4, 2004 but Hilao-Enriquez said that no investigation has been done so far.
Meanwhile, Jalandoni told Bulatlat that the GRP Negotiating Panel said that the money is still there. But the GRP panel has not acted on the demand of the NDFP panel to place the money in a separate escrow account.
Back to the committee?
Rosales had earlier expressed her intention to deliver her sponsorship speech for HB 3315. Selda however threatened to issue an open letter, through Bayan Muna, asking other lawmakers not to support Rosales’ version of the bill.
“We are the victims,” she said. “Why is it so difficult for them to include what we think will serve our interests?”
On Jan. 18, Bayan Muna Rep. Satur Ocampo delivered a privilege speech at the House articulating the claimants’ objections to the proposed bill. Rosales later interpellated Ocampo. The House speaker decided to bring the bill back to the House Committee on Rules, which will determine if the bill will be returned to Rosales’ committee for further deliberations.
“If the Committee chair, Akbayan partylist representative Loreta Ann Rosales, will continue to give more weight to the pressures of some lawmakers who are opposed to the compensation of the Marcos victims instead of listening to the victims’ demands, she might as well resign,” said Hilao-Enriquez. Progressive congressmen from Bayan Muna also expressed their intention to withdraw their names as co-sponsors of the bill if the victims’ recommendations will be disregarded.
“By prolonging the process, the government does not seem to be, by implication, interested in compensating the victims of the Marcos dictatorship,” Hilao-Enriquez concluded. Bulatlat.com