Bill to compensate martial law victims barely moving

It has been 26 years since dictator Ferdinand E. Marcos was toppled but the victims of tyranny have not received any compensation from the government.

By RONALYN V. OLEA
Bulatlat.com

MANILA – Romeo Luneta would have joined the delegation of martial law victims in a dialogue with House Speaker Feliciano Belmonte, Jan. 24. But he fell twice that day. At 69, Luneta has hypertension and diabetes.

Luneta’s colleagues at the Samahan ng Ex-Detainees Laban sa Detensyon at Aresto (Selda) went to see Belmonte. Like him, most of the victims of martial law – those detained and tortured for being activists — are now old and sick. It has been 26 years since dictator Ferdinand E. Marcos was toppled but the victims of tyranny have not received any compensation from the government.

“That has been too long,” Belmonte told a delegation of Selda led by Angelina Ipong, the group’s secretary general, referring to the bill seeking to allocate P10 billion ($232.5 million) for victims of martial law.

After conferring with his staff, Belmonte learned that the bill is now with the House Committee on Appropriations. The House Committee on Human Rights had concluded its deliberations on the bill.

At the Senate, the counterpart bill is still pending with the Committee on Justice and Human Rights chaired by Sen. Francis Escudero. This, even as President Benigno S. Aquino, in his second State of the Nation Address, said: “We aim to give due compensation to the victims of martial law.”

Legislation is needed to appropriate part of the sequestered funds from the Marcoses for the victims of martial law because the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Law provides that all sequestered assets from the Marcos family would be utilized for the implementation of land reform. In 1995, the Federal Court of Hawaii found Marcos guilty of grave human-rights violations in a class suit filed by Selda and awarded $2 billion in compensatory damages to the victims. There were 9,539 complainants in the class suit against the Marcoses. In 1998, the Swiss government transferred $640 million to the Philippine government. The Philippine Supreme Court ordered its transfer to the national treasury in 2003.

Belmonte said he would follow the bill through.

Fake claimants

Ipong raised the issue of fake claimants to the compensation money awarded by a Texas court to victims of human rights abuses. Each victim is entitled to get $1,000 from the $10 million settlement agreement with a Marcos crony.

Eight persons claiming to be legitimate claimants were apprehended by the police in November last year. They were released the next day after posting bail amounting to P30,000 ($697) each, according to Selda. The police confiscated photocopies of identification cards bearing the names of legitimate claimants.

Ipong also mentioned the delisting of 2,013 victims from the list of 9,539 victims as legitimate claimants validated by the US Federal District Court of Hawaii.

Selda urged Belmonte to investigate the incident, especially after the group received reports that the modus operandi continues.

Carmencita Florentino, 59, a member of Selda and was detained twice during martial law, said she received reports from their community in Tatalon, Quezon City that individuals are being recruited to pose as legitimate claimants to the compensation.

Ipong said they tried to get a copy of the report from the Philippine National Police – Criminal Detection and Investigation Office on Anti-Money Laundering regarding the operations of the “syndicate” but they were denied.

“PNP-CIDG told us they cannot give us a copy because it is sensitive,” Fr. Diony Cabillas, one of the Selda leaders, told Belmonte. To which Belmonte said: “That’s a public record.”

Cabillas said they got the address of the Santiago couple who were suspected to be the leaders of the team from the police. When they went to the place, the couple were nowhere to be found. “Those two are identified by the police as staff of lawyer Rod Domingo,” Cabillas said, referring to one of the lawyers who secured the settlement agreement with a Marcos crony.

“That is terrible,” was all Belmonte could say.

Anakpawis Rep. Rafael Mariano who also sat in the dialogue said there should be transparency regarding the compensation fund.

Selda members attempted several times to talk with Domingo and Robert Swift, the other lawyer, but they were ignored.

“How much has been disbursed? How many have claimed their checks? How much is still left of the fund? These questions must be answered in the interest of the victims,” Mariano said.

Only the lawyers, the bank and the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) which initially helped in the disbursement of checks, have access to the list of claimants, Selda said.

“We have to know how this syndicate operates so that we can put safeguards in the compensation bill,” Mariano said.

Belmonte said he would see what the Congress could do.

A day after the dialogue, Luneta called up Bulatlat.com to inquire about what happened. He was still feeling dizzy, he said but he has no money for medical checkup.

After learning what transpired, Luneta said: “I will fight for it. We have to get justice.” ()

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