At long last

After all these years, official recognition. The soon-to-be-signed Human Rights Victims Reparation and Recognition Act of 2013 sets aside at least P10 billion as compensation for victims of human rights abuses committed by the Marcos dictatorship. Substantial as the amount is, however, the real import of the new measure is not accounting, but accountability. For the first time—and for all time—the state acknowledges its duty to fulfill a double act of recognition.

First, “to recognize the heroism and sacrifices of all Filipinos who were victims of summary execution, torture, enforced or involuntary disappearance and other gross human rights violations committed during the regime of former President Ferdinand E. Marcos covering the period from Sept. 21, 1972, to Feb. 25, 1986, and restore the victims’ honor and dignity.” And second, to embrace “its moral and legal obligation to recognize and/or compensate said victims and/or their families for the deaths, injuries, sufferings, deprivations and damages they suffered under the Marcos regime.”

These are historic commitments. The sponsor of the consolidated bill reported out at the Senate committee level, Sen. Francis Escudero, was justifiably proud. The draft law was the “first … such human-rights legislation in the world where a state recognizes a previous administration’s fault against its own people and not only provides for, but also actually appropriates for, reparation,” he told reporters.

That it took such a long time to cobble together—27 years after the dictator and his family fled Malacañang, 15 years after the Swiss Federal Supreme Court ordered the transfer of Marcos deposits in Switzerland to the Philippine government, nine-and-a-half years after the Supreme Court of the Philippines ruled that those deposits (now the source of the compensation fund) constituted ill-gotten wealth—testifies to the slow-grinding wheels of both court and Congress. If it weren’t for the unstinting efforts of the human rights victims themselves, and the lawyers and support groups that labored with them, who knows where the measure would be now, or whether it would have become law?

At the same time, we are mindful that, precisely because of the delays, the draft law has become less vulnerable to criticism. No one can reasonably say that it is a form of legislative revenge, enacted in the immediate and romantic afterglow of the 1986 People Power Revolution; indeed, in the Senate, all 18 senators who were in the session hall at the time voted in favor of the consolidated bill on third reading, including the former martial law administrator, Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile, and Escudero himself, whose late father served in the Marcos Cabinet. (The dictator’s son, Sen. Ferdinand Marcos Jr., managed to find himself outside the session hall during the vote, but returned some time later to read a privilege speech. The same sense of arrogant denial marks his ungracious comments after both chambers of Congress ratified the bicameral conference committee report.)

Under the draft law, the monetary compensation to be received will depend on the abuse suffered, a necessary calculus that may offend some of the victims or their families; indeed, there will be a good number who will refuse to accept compensation in cash because in truth we cannot place a monetary value on heroism or the patriotic virtues. Others will accept, in part because they had never been able to recover economically from the trauma of the martial law years: The money will pay for the necessities of a useful life. To many nonvictims, the mere fact that the state is setting aside a considerable amount of money as victims’ compensation will serve as no-longer-disputable proof of martial-law atrocities: The money means it must have all happened.

Perhaps the most important form of compensation, however, will take place in this country’s classrooms. The draft law mandates that education authorities will “ensure that the teaching of martial law atrocities, the lives and sacrifices of [the victims] in our history are included in the basic, secondary and tertiary education curricula.” In other words, the heroes and victims of martial rule will formally, officially, become the object lesson they had always been—at long last.

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Tags: editorial , human rights legislation , human rights victims reparation and recognition act , Marcos dictatorship , martial law

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