‘More than the monetary compensation, the bill represents the only formal, written document that acknowledges that martial law violated the human rights of Filipinos and that there were courageous people who fought the dictatorship.’ Marie Hilao-Enriquez, Karapatan
By RONALYN V. OLEA
MANILA –Victims of martial law, many of whom are now old and sick, trooped to the Senate, January 23, to press the bicameral conference committee to pass the bill seeking to compensate the victims.
More than 40 years after then president Ferdinand Marcos declared martial law, its victims are finally inching closer to some semblance of compensation. The bicameral conference committee approved this week the Human Rights Victims Reparation and Recognition Act of 2013. It only needs the signature of President Benigno Aquino III for it to be enacted into a law.
Bayan Muna Rep. Neri Javier Colmenares, primary author of the bill and himself a victim of torture during martial law, immediately went to the Senate grounds after the session to congratulate the victims, mostly members of Selda, the original petitioner in the Hawaii class suit against the Marcoses.
“We have long been waiting for this day. It’s not just about the compensation or the money but the formal recognition of the Philippine government, which the Hawaii court had done years ago, that we, the victims of martial law, are indeed victims of human rights violations,” Colmenares told fellow victims.
In 1995, after the Federal Court of Hawaii found Marcos guilty of human rights abuses, it awarded $2 billion compensatory damages for 9,539 victims of martial who filed the historic class suit against the late dictator. A law is required to mandate the government to allot a portion of the funds to be sequestered from the Marcos family for the victims because the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Law provides that all sequestered assets from the Marcos family would be utilized for implementing land reform.
“We salute the martial law heroes who, despite old age, sickness, maneuvers of the Marcoses, and all other obstacles along the way, have painstakingly stood and fought to make sure that this bill granting reparation and recognition to the martial law victims is passed. We have gone a long way. We have long fought for this,” Marie Hilao-Enriquez, Selda chairwoman and a martial law victim herself, said in a statement.
Proven victims of martial law
Speaking during the rally, Colmenares announced that the version approved by the bicameral committee includes the provision on “conclusive presumption.”
The ‘conclusive presumption’ provision recognizes that the 9,539 victims, including the 24 direct action plaintiffs who filed and won the historic class suit of martial law victims against the Marcoses in 1986 are legitimate human rights victims who must be automatically considered as such under the proposed Philippine law.
“They have gone through the tedious process of proving that they are victims under a competent court and must not be made to go through a grueling process again of relating their sufferings under the law; they have done so in the Hawaii court already,” Enriquez said.
Earlier, Akbayan Rep. Walden Bello said the Marcos compensation bill suffers from constitutional infirmities. Bello opposed the conclusive presumption provision and insisted that all victims should apply again before a compensation board to prove that they are victims.
“The bill’s passage is a victory not only for the victims but for the Filipino people. More than the monetary compensation, the bill represents the only formal, written document that acknowledges that martial law violated the human rights of Filipinos and that there were courageous people who fought the dictatorship,” Enriquez said.
Selda paid tribute to the martyrs of martial law, including Don Chino Roces, founding chairman of Selda, Dean Armando Malay, Dr. Nemesio Prudente, former Navy Capt. Danilo Vizmanos, Atty. Jose Mari Velez and Atty. Rolando Olalia.
The group also thanked Selda board members who are still alive such as Fidel Agcaoili, Juliet De Lima-Sison, Vicente Ladlad, Dean Francisco Nemenzo, Tita Lubi, Josephine Dongail, Doris Baffrey.
Selda also thanked its original lawyers, the late Romeo Capulong and the late Jose Mari Velez, for their “tireless efforts” when they were still alive.
“We should also dedicate this bill to all the heroes and martyrs of martial Law who have gone before us and waged the most determined fight against the dictatorship and suffered the worst violations during martial law,” Enriquez said, adding “This bill is a small effort of Selda to ensure that their sacrifice shall not be put to waste.”