Human Face

Ninoy’s family entitled to compensation

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I think of Purificacion Viernes whom I interviewed and photographed in the early 1980s. She was in a hospital bed, her feet raised by strings and pulleys, the burned soles of her feet showing proof of torture. She recounted how soldiers strafed her home and killed members of her family. Wounded, Purificacion played dead. A soldier burned the soles of her feet with a lighter to find out if she was alive or dead….

I had said it then and I say it again now: The close to 10,000 martial law victims who filed the class suit against the Marcos estate did not do so for the prospect of wealth. That was not what pushed them to make a claim on the Marcoses’ ill-gotten wealth. It was justice.

With the signing by the bicameral committee of the compensation bill for human rights abuse victims two days ago—after more than two decades of waiting—hope for a more just recompense springs once more. The pittance received two years ago by thousands of members of the 1986 class suit filed against the Marcos estate hardly symbolized the kind of justice that they have been waiting for. But it was a good beginning. Even for historical purposes only.

In 2011 the claimants, I among them, each received $1,000—the result of Honolulu Judge Manuel Real’s approval of the distribution of $7.5 million to settle a class action suit filed in 1986 by human rights abuse victims of the Marcos regime.

The $1,000 was a trickle compared to the amount that the federal grand jury in Honolulu had decided should be awarded the rights abuse victims. In 1995, the grand jury found the Marcos regime liable for the torture, summary execution and disappearance of about 10,000 victims and awarded them $2 billion in damages.

The 2011 initial compensation came from a Marcos-crony stash that was described as a surprise find. My happy question then: Why was the government no longer opposing, as it had many times in the past? Was it suddenly looking the other way? Past administrations had stood in the way and said that any recovered ill-gotten wealth should go to the national treasury. Comprehensive agrarian reform was supposed to be among the beneficiaries of recovered loot.

President Aquino is expected to sign the compensation bill into law before the 27th anniversary of the Edsa People Power uprising late this month.

For the long imprisonment, psychological torture and death of former Sen. Ninoy Aquino during the Marcos dictatorship, will President Aquino’s family be among the recipients of compensation? The answer is yes. The Aquinos may not have participated in the class suit, but the bill now includes both those in the class suit and those recognized and validated by the Bantayog ng mga Bayani Foundation (BBF). Ninoy’s name is etched on the BBF Wall of Remembrance. Now is the chance for both those who had been left out and those who did not want to file claims for reasons of their own. Many might find themselves qualified through what the bill calls “conclusive presumption.”

The bill includes the creation of the Human Rights Victims Board, a quasijudicial body that will receive, evaluate, process and investigate claims for monetary compensation. The board is tasked to create a “Roll of Human Rights Victims.” I know the BBF already has a roll sourced mainly from the Task Force Detainees. Hmm, and the military (the villain during the martial law years) should also be able to provide a list of those it has detained, tortured and executed. Time to own up! I was told the military has a truckload of files waiting to go to the archives. Any takers?

After Cory Aquino became president, the military gave her photographs—surreptitiously taken—of Ninoy, herself, and their visitors while Ninoy was in prison. There should be more where they came from.

There are many more who could have joined the class suit but the pain in remembering proved too much for them. And since recalling the painful details and putting these down in writing were among the requirements for joining the class suit, some just could not. Nothing could bring back to life their beloved, they said, the pain of loss cannot be quantified. You cannot put a price tag on their pain.

The US district court in Honolulu had already awarded $772 million in compensatory damages to victims of human rights abuses of the Marcos dictatorship. In 1995 or thereabouts, a federal jury also awarded $1.2 billion in exemplary damages to the victims. Both class-action plaintiffs and direct-action plaintiffs have clearly won. In 1995 the US Supreme Court upheld the lower court’s ruling.

But the Philippine government blocked the way at that time. It did not want justice to flow like a river in this parched land. All Filipinos should benefit, the Ramos administration said then, not just the 10,000 claimants. The government at that time had yet to win a single case against the Marcoses, but it wanted to claim the loot for the rest of the Filipino people. It was like pitting the 10,000 claimants against the entire population.

My thinking then, and my thinking now, is that the P10 billion or whatever amount in compensation being held by the government will not be wasted when it goes to individual claimants. This money will find its way into the Philippine economy. Many will use it for small businesses, the education of their grandchildren, improving their lives, etc. Let the victims get what is due them and let them decide what to do with their share.

Better for the money to end up with the victims than with the government where there are many sticky fingers and magnetic pockets.

Hail to the representatives and senators who pushed for this compensation bill.

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