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‘Defining moment’ in Philippine-Swiss ties

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At a forum two days ago on the newly signed Human Rights (Violations) Victims Reparation and Recognition Act of 2013, I shared a table with some rights abuse victims of the martial law years. They were not the nationally known biggies.

The gathering was held at the Bantayog ng Mga Bayani grounds in Quezon City, where the names of martyrs and heroes of the dark days are etched on black granite.

A woman from Tarlac showed me documents related to her desaparecido (disappeared) father who was snatched by unknown men in front of her when she was 12 years old. Her father was an organizer of peasants, she told me. Would her family be qualified to receive compensation? she wondered.

I asked a man from Bulacan about his case. Already among the 9,539 so-called “Hawaii claimants,” he was eager to know more about the new compensation law. He suffered torture in prison: Electricity was applied on his genitals, he told me. While speaking he kept rubbing his chest, then added that his torturers also kept pulling and twisting his nipples and that it took a long time for his nipples to get back to their original look.

The gathering was an eye-opener especially for those victims who have not been in the loop for many years. The crafters of the law, among them Representatives Edcel Lagman and Neri Colmenares, spoke about how the bill went through the wringer for many years. They shared inside stories in the bicameral sessions and how the bill finally got signed by President Aquino at last week’s 27th anniversary of the 1986 People Power uprising. Bantayog executive director Nievelina Rosete spoke on little-known facts about the early days of the hunt for the Marcos loot and Sen. Jovito Salonga’s recovery efforts.

But the speech of Swiss Ambassador Ivo Sieber held its own. A source of sound bytes on the Marcos Swiss accounts—recovered many years ago but held for a long time in the national treasury until the compensation law was passed—Sieber said the President’s signing of the compensation law was “a remarkable moment for Philippine-Swiss relations.”

Three days ago the Opinion section carried an article jointly authored by Philippine Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario and Swiss Foreign Affairs Minister Didier Burkhalter that described the compensation law as “a model for the recovery of stolen assets.”

They wrote: “The law ends the long quest for justice of thousands of victims of the Marcos regime. It is one of the first and most prominent cases where assets looted from the state will be returned to the rightful owner in a fair manner through the funds recovered from a corrupt dictator. It also sets new standards for the future restitution and use of illegally acquired funds. It is difficult to find a better example of retributive justice.”

At Bantayog, Lagman proudly explained that the compensation law is more superior than the reparation laws of other countries because of its “catch-all” provision (in Section 3) which is more inclusive rather than exclusive and is without prejudice to double or even multiple indemnification. Lagman, whose brother Hermon is among the desaparecidos (and among those honored on the Bantayog Wall of Remembrance), said his family is waiving the right to compensation.

Like the Swiss minister of foreign affairs, the Swiss ambassador did not mince words: “[This] marks an important stage in a remarkable joint effort between the Philippines and Switzerland to right the wrongs committed by the Marcos regime. Only hours after the ousting of the dictator, the Swiss government imposed an unprecedented … freezing order on all Marcos assets located in Switzerland.” Mark the word “unprecedented.”

“The Philippine government’s request for mutual legal assistance set in motion the process to repatriate the assets stolen by Marcos. A number of legal hurdles had to be overcome in these uncharted proceedings before a total of $684 million could be transferred to the Philippines. This restitution marked one of the largest sums ever returned by any government to a country formerly ruled by a kleptocratic regime.”

Sieber added that prior to the return of the Marcos loot, “no other case covering similar amounts of money had been brought to a successful conclusion—and not many since.” Switzerland, he said, offered the Philippines the possibility of rectifying past injustice and bringing closure to a trying time in its history.

By freezing the Marcos assets, Sieber stressed, “the Swiss government underlined its political will to prevent its financial center from being abused by dictators and autocratic regimes. The message proclaimed then and forcefully reiterated since is clear: Switzerland is a high-risk place for illegal funds.

“On the international level, the Philippine-Swiss cooperation also proved to be a defining moment. It demonstrated that the successful resolution of major corruption cases was possible if both parties worked together.”

The Swiss government has in fact built on the Marcos experience and has reapplied it in the wake of the Arab Spring of 2011 when assets of three former regimes were blocked. Sieber disclosed that Switzerland has returned over $1.7 billion of stolen assets. This, he said, is more than any other financial center in the world has ever returned.

Switzerland is ridding itself of an old reputation.

The new law should curb the “sense of impunity enjoyed by crooked officials such as Marcos,” Sieber stressed.

What strong words from this young, cheerful diplomat. (He looks somewhat like a smiling version of actor John Cusack.) So at home in his words, so at home in his country of assignment.  (His wife is Filipino.)

Send feedback to cerespd@gmail.com or www.ceresdoyo.com


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