By INA ALLECO R. SILVERIO
MANILA — The progressive party-list group Bayan Muna is accusing a group closely allied with the Aquino government of resurrecting a legislative measure that is “ contrary to the interest of human rights victims.”
Bayan Muna Rep. Neri Colmenares criticized Akbayan lawmaker Walden Bello for allegedly undermining the House position in the bicameral committee tasked to harmonize the Senate and House bills providing for compensation for victims of human rights violations during martial law. This, Colmenares charged, was despite the unity of lawmakers and an earlier public statement made by deputy Speaker Erin Tañada to defend the House version.
“Bayan Muna believes that the latest statement of Rep. Bello that the version of the House in the Marcos compensation bill suffers from constitutional infirmities and that the House is about to abandon its version that gives Hawaii victims conclusive presumption that they were indeed victims, is an attack against the victims of human rights during martial law. This is not about Bayan Muna and Akbayan disagreeing with each other. This is about siding with human rights victims against the Marcoses,” Colmenares said.
On December 17, the Senate voted 18-0 to approve on third and final reading Senate Bill 3334 or the “Human Rights Victims Reparation and Recognition Act of 2012.”
A consultative, inclusive compensation bill
According to Colmenares, the House believes that its version is fair and reasonable because it recognizes the long suffering of the Hawaii claimants and was a result of years of consultations with all human rights groups in the country including Task Force Detainees, SELDA, FIND, Karapatan and even Claimants 1081.
“Even Deputy Speaker Erin Tañada publicly claimed that we would defend the House version. The Akbayan statement asserting its original bill once again in the midst of the bicameral conference is certainly unwelcome, ” he said.
Based on reports, the original Akbayan bill, which was filed as early as the 12th Congress, requires the victims to apply again before a compensation board because Akbayan suspects there are many fake victims when the case was filed in 1986. Colmenares argued that Akbayan “forgets that in 1986, very few of the victims knew that the case filed in Hawaii was a ‘tort’ case for damages, which provides monetary compensation.”
“Even I thought it was a criminal case. In fact, many of us did not even think we would win that case in a US court. So why, would a person commit perjury, file a false claim that he was tortured by a military officer and court the ire of that military officer? He might even be killed for doing that. Akbayan should remember that many military torturers were still in power even after Marcos fled,” Colmenares explained.
He further argued that the Hawaii complainants are genuine victims of human rights violations, and no one contested the point during the bicameral conference last week, not even the senators.
“So it was unlikely that the House would agree to make them undergo another round of investigation in the compensation law if they are considered genuine victims. Said victims may no longer be able to present any evidence if someone opposes their new application because it has been decades since they were arrested or tortured” said Colmenares.
The lawmaker said that he himself can no longer present evidence of his own four-year imprisonment and torture, but clarified that he will not apply for compensation because he is one of the authors of the proposed law. He pointed out, however, that there is a danger that if a Hawaii claimant is denied by the Compensation Board, then it will give life to the claim of the Marcoses that many Hawaii victims are fake martial law victims.
“It is surely unkind to make the Hawaii victims, majority of whom are very old now, to again relive before the Compensation Board their rape, torture and sufferings. This is outrageous,” he said.
Compensation for all Marcos victims
The Bayan Muna solon said the 80-20 percent classification under the House version is not unconstitutional, because there is a substantial distinction between the Hawaii victims and other martial law victims.
“While we know that there are 10,000 victims in the Hawaii case, including the 9,539 class suit claimants and 24 direct action cases, which have undergone a long and tedious processing by the Hawaii court, Congress is not even sure how many from those not in the Hawaii case will apply for compensation considering that it has been more than 40 years since martial law was declared” he said.
He also said that the House believes that the P2 billion ($48.78 million) is more than enough to compensate those who will be approved by the Board, although the House is open to doubling it if necessary.
“Now Akbayan is trying to resurrect their bill in the bicameral conference. In any case, let the Marcoses or the military question the constitutionality of the law later rather than a member of the House himself questioning its constitutionality now,” said Colmenares.
He clarified that his group is not saying that victims not included in the Hawaii case should not be compensated, because they will have P 2 billion under the House bill. Congress, he said, is even open to increasing the two billion pesos if necessary.
In the meantime, Bayan Muna has also filed a bill compensating those not included in the Hawaii case with a similar P10 billion ($243.9 million) in compensation.
Laughingstock of the international community
Colmenares pointed out that the House version also recognizes that the killing or torture of a student who threw a Molotov cocktail during a rally is still a human rights violation.
“But the Senate version limits human rights violations only to those exercising their rights peacefully. The original Akbayan version in the 12th Congress also contained the same qualification but the approved House version dropped the term ‘peacefully.’ Only Akbayan and the Marcoses insist that these human rights victims should not be compensated if they were not exercising their rights ’peacefully’,” he said.
Colmenares argued that the Akbayan bill did not get the support of the House because the House believed that the Constitution does not require such a qualification.
“We will be the laughing stock of the international community if we follow the Senate version since we will be the only country in the world which says that one’s human rights can be violated if the military thinks one is not exercising his right peacefully. Even the Geneva Conventions state that soldiers captured in war cannot be tortured or summarily killed even if they were not exercising their rights peacefully. The House considered international humanitarian law and human rights when they did not support the Akbayan bill,” he insisted.
He also clarified the issue on the creation of the Compensation Board saying that the Senate version, which is generally similar to the Akbayan Bill, only limited the Board to Mabini, Flag and TFD while the other large human rights groups with constituencies all over the country are not mentioned.
He went on to explain that the House version, which is generally similar to the Bayan Muna bill, is fair and just because it is inclusive of the major human rights groups which existed during and after martial law, and made compensation one of their main advocacies through the years that the bill was pending in Congress, namely SELDA, TFD, and FIND and also Karapatan and Claimants 1081. Congress has reportedly even declared its openness to include Mabini and Flag, should they be willing, which makes the House version more broad and consultative.
“The positions being forwarded by Akbayan were the same positions they posed years ago when they filed their bill. Their bill failed to get the votes of the House. It is unfair and unjust to the human rights victims to resurrect these positions again when the House should be united in supporting its approved version. The passage of the Marcos compensation bill has long been delayed. Bayan Muna believes that it should have been passed by the previous Congress but was derailed by then president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. The funds for the victims have been whittled away during the years, some of which were reportedly used in the fertilizer scam. It is dangerous to further delay because the funds could further dwindle,” Colmenares ended.