Betrayed by their own government
How much would $1,500 buy a Filipino today? Not much, even if the dollar exchange rate is going by the historically high measure of more or less P52 to a dollar.
But it would still be a big help to aging victims of human rights violations who in their youth underwent arrest, torture, prolonged detention and the threat of execution or disappearance haunting their days and nights. The estimated P78,000, to be awarded to each of the 6,500 registered human rights claimants involved in a class suit filed soon after the fall of the Marcos dictatorship, would go a long way toward meeting their present health needs (physical and mental) and assuaging the years—decades!—of ignominy and hardship while fighting the feeling that their sacrifices had all but been forgotten.
The settlements are part of an estimated $20 million-deal to be charged against the proceeds of the sale of four paintings, including one of impressionist master Claude Monet’s famous “Water Lily” series, recently recovered from a close (and now imprisoned) underling of former first lady Imelda Marcos.
The proposed agreement would set aside $13.75 million for the class suit members, the Philippine government would receive $4 million, while the remainder would be split by the Golden Buddha Corp. and the estate of Roger Roxas, the man believed to have discovered the alleged Yamashita treasure but who lost it under duress to the Marcoses. It had always been the contention of Imelda Marcos that her husband had amassed his great wealth because he had recovered the Yamashita treasure.
Now comes news that the Duterte administration has decided to reject the court-supervised deal. The Office of the Solicitor General (OSG) said it found the terms of the proposed deal “grossly disadvantageous to the government and not in accord with existing Philippine laws and jurisprudence.”
The OSG said it had taken common stand with the Department of Justice (DOJ) and the Presidential Commission on Good Government (PCGG) during a case conference on March 11. “The three agencies unanimously agreed that, in the best interest of the Republic, it will no longer enter into the settlement agreement.”
Their joint decision is, at the minimum, rich in irony, since the PCGG in particular was created shortly after the Edsa revolt precisely to recover in behalf of the people of the Philippines state money and resources stolen by the Marcoses and their cronies. In its interpretation of its mandate, the PCGG has maintained that all recovered wealth belonged to the Republic and not to individual Filipinos, even if they had been victims of human rights abuse.
It was in pursuit of this mandate that the PCGG negotiated with the human rights victims and their American lawyer on how to divide the proceeds, but then fell in with the OSG-DOJ position that preferred to scuttle the deal rather than share the money with the victims.
How could they decide otherwise? Even while campaigning for president, Duterte had already in effect absolved the Marcoses of accusations of acquiring “hidden wealth.” As recently as Feb. 26 (a day after the Edsa anniversary), the President was still repeating the falsehood. “Until now,” he said in a campaign address, the government has “not proven anything (against the Marcoses) except sequester and sell.”
This despite the fact that thousands of other human rights claimants had already received “reparations” as required by law, with the Human Rights Victims’ Claims Board processing more than 75,000 claims and approving grants to approximately 11,000 claimants. The money for these reparations came from Marcos funds turned over by the Swiss government based on a Supreme Court decision in 2003.
It must be particularly galling for the petitioners in the Hawaii class suit that after decades of keeping their hopes up, these same hopes should be dashed to pieces now—and by their own government at that.
The country’s officials, especially the President and his cronies and comrades, should realize that without the sacrifices expended by those now clamoring for their measly share of the stolen Marcos billions, the Filipino citizenry might still be living under the Marcoses’ thumbs—and they, too, wouldn’t have had the chance to occupy their cozy positions at present, made available to them by the democratic space that succeeded the dictatorship.
Or maybe they know something we don’t. Maybe a Marcos restoration, embellished by Dutertismo, has indeed taken place.