By Tarra Quismundo, Alcuin Papa, Philippine Daily Inquirer
MANILA, Philippines—The settlement may amount to “loose change,” but the $7.5-million pay-out for human rights abuse victims (or $1,000 for each victim) during martial law is an affirmation of the late strongman Ferdinand Marcos’ ill-gotten wealth, a human-rights victim and former lawmaker said on Friday.
Satur Ocampo, a former representative of the party-list group Bayan Muna, said the settlement for Marcos-acquired land in the American states of Texas and Colorado was a welcome development in the 25-year fight of victims of abuses during the Marcos regime.
Distribution is expected to begin in mid-February and take about a month.
“It’s just loose change. But the amount is OK… at least families are getting something,” Ocampo, a national board member of Selda (Samahan ng Ex-Detainees Laban sa Detensyon at Aresto), said when reached by phone.
“It is a confirmation, an acknowledgment that the Marcoses had amassed ill-gotten wealth,” he said.
Commission on Human Rights (CHR) Chair Loretta Ann “Etta” Rosales, who used to head the Claimants 1081 group, told the Inquirer that she was waiving her rights to her share.
Rosales said she and other victims would use the money to establish a foundation to continue their human rights advocacy and to memorialize victims of martial law.
She said she was “happy” for the award because it represented an “uphill struggle” for the victims. She added that it was the first time in Asia that victims of human rights abuse would be indemnified.
A federal judge in Honolulu approved on Thursday the distribution of $7.5 million to settle a lawsuit filed by thousands of victims of torture, execution and abduction under the Marcos regime.
The distribution provides the victims their first opportunity to collect something since they sued in 1986.
Each eligible member of the class-action lawsuit will receive $1,000 under the plan approved by US District Judge Manuel Real.
Malacañang welcomed the decision of the Honolulu court.
“Yes, this is a positive development because of the long wait of the victims of human-rights violations during the administration of former President Marcos. It’s high time this happened,” said President Aquino’s deputy spokesperson Abigail Valte.
Asked to comment, the chair of the Presidential Commission on Good Government (PCGG), the government agency tasked to pursue the recovery of Marcos assets, said the state was not a party in the case.
“But that does not prejudice the ability of the republic to go after these properties. That’s one thing we’re looking at right now,” PCGG Chair Andres Bautista told the Inquirer.
Ocampo was among some 9,539 claimants who filed the class suit against Marcos and his cronies. The list was trimmed by 2,000 because of alleged double entries, but Ocampo said this had to be further explained by lead lawyer Robert Swift.
He said he had yet to know for sure whether he was among the names removed from the list as the names of the 7,526 retained claimants had yet to be disclosed.
“They said there was double-listing, but it sounds impossible for 2,000 names to be double-listed,” he said.
Ocampo also said Swift should explain why the original settlement amount of $10 million was reduced by $2.5 million.
“[He] should explain where the $2.5 million went, if it was used for attorney’s fees or incidental expenses,” Ocampo said.
More assets in NY, Singapore
He said the lawyer should also explain the mechanics of the distribution.
The Associated Press reported that during a hearing at a federal court in Honolulu, Swift said the payments were an important milestone for victims who had been fighting for years. Most of the victims or their surviving family members live in the Philippines.
“We know they are anxious for distribution. Most of our members are poor, very poor, and live in a Third World country that hasn’t compensated them for any injuries they suffered, or loss of loved ones,” Swift said.
He said $1,000 might not seem like much but that the money would go far in the Philippines where per capita income was about $1,700.
The funds come from a $10-million settlement of a case against individuals controlling Texas and Colorado land bought with Marcos money. Legal fees and a payment to the person who located the properties will consume most of the remaining $2.5 million of the settlement.
Swift said his team was still pursuing an additional $70 million in Marcos assets through courts in New York and Singapore.
Swift said the case was groundbreaking in that it was the first class-action lawsuit filed anywhere in the world for human rights violations.
“The challenge was to show that it could be done. And it could be done efficiently and the court could manage the case efficiently. And I think we accomplished all of that,” he said.
Fr. Dionisio Cabillas, secretary general of Selda, said the award represented a triumph for the victims.
“That is a symbol of the triumph of the struggle of the victims of martial law, so they will accept [the payment], no matter how small. It shows that Marcos was guilty,” Cabillas told the Inquirer.
Rosales advised victims to accept their share. But she said it was also within the rights of the victims to refuse the payment.
“All who have the right to claim the award should claim it. Those who don’t want it, that’s their right. What is important is to ensure the distribution to those who deserve it,” Rosales told the Philippine Daily Inquirer.
Blocked all the way
“This makes me happy. And this is just the first tranche after God knows how long… I don’t care how small it is. It’s very significant,” she said.
Rosales said Judge Real’s court approved the award of any Marcos asset recovered by the victims as far back as 1995.
“Every step of the way was blocked by people who would rather keep these [Marcos assets] to themselves, especially the government,” she said.
She narrated that then President Joseph Estrada had been supportive of their fight. But she said the administration of Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo had thwarted all their efforts to get their award, including a legislative bill that should have outlined the distribution of the award.
Rosales and Cabillas also expressed hope that the PCGG would not oppose the award.
In a separate statement, Ocampo called the US court decision a “vindication” for human rights victims.
“The settlement has proven the very well known fact that the Marcoses stashed money from the people’s coffers and allowed dummies and cronies to hold these for them. This is a vindication for the victims and the Filipino people’s fight against corruption of the hated conjugal dictatorship,” he said.
Selda also called on the Aquino administration to certify as urgent long-pending bills, one filed by Ocampo during his time in Congress, that would legislate the compensation of victims of martial law. With reports from AP and Norman Bordadora