Along with other former youth activists, now also in their senior years, SELDA members trooped last Wednesday, January 17, to the office of the Human Rights Victims’ Claims Board for a meeting with its chairperson, Lina Sarmiento.
By MARYA SALAMAT
MANILA – Rey Ordiz was 21 years old when the late President Ferdinand Marcos declared Martial Law. A student at the time, he was active in organizing the youth-students and workers sector in Pasay, an activity he took upon himself together with other activists after he learned of the sorry plight of workers in a US Tobacco company in their area.
Now he is 68 years old. He is one of the members of SELDA (Samahan ng Ex-detainees Laban sa Detensyon at Aresto). Even in their senior years, their struggle is not over. Along with other former youth activists, now also in their senior years, they trooped last Wednesday January 17 to the office of the Human Rights Victims’ Claims Board for a meeting with its chairperson, Lina Sarmiento. Their goal: follow-up and make sure that before its term of office ends on May 2018, it should have satisfactorily completed the processing of all claims for reparation by the Martial Law victims.
Trinidad Herrera-Repuno, president of SELDA, said the victims of Martial Law under Marcos are united in seeking justice and indemnification. But this early, she said, they are against any possible extension again of the term of this claims board.
With more than 30 SELDA members including Ordiz, Repuno met with Sarmiento, who promised to finish indeed all the required processing of claims for reparation of all “qualified martial law victims” under Marcos.
Repuno urged Sarmiento to immediately fulfill the agreed upon indemnification of the first proven “eligible” claimants for reparation, and immediately follow it with the release of full compensation – not staggered as what happened with the first batch – for the rest of the eligible claimants.
A struggle for reparation
Sarmiento said their office also wanted to swiftly complete their job. She explained that the processing is already more than 99-percent completed. All that they needed to do now is to address the appeals that invariably follow some of the decisions handed by the board.
According to Sarmiento, some claims are either denied or the value of compensation granted is being slashed. They give “points” based on how terrible the rights violations are. They comb through the accounts and evidence, they note and cross-reference for inconsistencies, and then they measure all these against the applicable law such as the law against torture. If the verified account of a claimant mentioned modes of torture specified in the law, the victim gets certain points which have corresponding monetary and non-monetary compensation.
Rey Ordiz got seven points. Others got just three to five. Ordiz was arrested and tortured in 1972. He told Bulatlat that one of his fellow detainees was deeply traumatized by the torture that he was not the same after their release. “May tama” pa rin siya hanggang ngayon.” (He’s not right in the head until now.)
Recalling his days of torture in Fort Bonifacio under the then First Lieutenant Voltaire Gazmin, he said, “We thought we were going to die there.” For fifteen days they had no food and water. To survive, they drunk their own bodily fluids. After 15 days of torture, Ordiz’s group was gathered in a “graduation ceremony” in Fort Bonifacio.
They were made to dance naked on top of a long table, before a cheering audience composed of members of the Philippine Army and their guests.
Ordiz said the soldiers played with the detainees’ private body parts. At one point, they made Ordiz and two other naked male detainees kiss each other lips-to-lips as the soldiers cheered.
He wrote these in the account he submitted to the Human Rights Victims’ Claims Board. He compared the process (of getting a semblance of indemnification) to something like this: “O, anak, sipain kita, etong candy.” (Here, child, I kicked you, here’s a candy.) And the candy was given in parts.
“Tayo ay magkakampi” (We are allies), Sarmiento told the SELDA members. She asked for their cooperation so the board could finish the processing of claims and the reparation.
Given that they are in charge of processing thousands of claims, they have computerized the process. In sending the letter detailing their decision to the claimants, they entered agreements with the Philpost to deliver it with accompanying notes asking if the claimant will appeal the decision.
An appeal requires more pieces of evidence or verified accounts. “It cannot be just about pity,” Sarmiento explained. She told Bulatlat that they are confident they would finish all the processing of claims and the release of reparation in time for the end of their term in May this year.
The Human Rights Victims Claims Board formed following the enactment in 2013 of the Human Rights Victims Reparation and Recognition Act. This law gives the board up to five years to accredit all eligible claimants and ease their receipt of monetary and non-monetary compensation.
In a class action suit filed against the Marcoses in Hawaii in 1986, the plaintiffs consisting of thousands of rights victims under Marcos Martial Law won when the US Federal Court upheld that the Marcoses are accountable for grave human rights abuses under Marcos’ 21-year reign. But since then they have struggled to receive even a portion of the settlement, which is also reportedly just a tiny portion of the estimated billions of ill-gotten wealth amassed by the Marcoses during their rule.