Hints and Symbols

Plenty of proof

/ 04:05 AM September 07, 2020

I still have a copy of the poster of instructions for filing claims under “Martial Law: Human Rights Victims Reparation and Recognition.” The filing period was from May to November 2014. My father, a political detainee under martial law when he was 18, came from abroad to file a claim in September 2014, exactly six years ago. We made a day trip of it, since the office for the Human Rights Victims’ Claims Board was in UP Diliman, a two-hour drive from our house.

According to the poster’s flowchart, there were nine steps in the claims process, and relied heavily on documentation of the violations committed. We stayed up the night before to organize and copy the necessary documents. We’d prepare and submit our claims, which would then be evaluated by the board secretariat. A preliminary list of eligible claimants would be published, after which oppositions or appeals could be filed. After further deliberation, a final list of claimants would be published. The monetary compensation per eligible claimant would then be determined.


It must be said that the claim my father was filing at the time was not made with money in mind. It is a sentiment I have written about in prior columns and will not repeat here. Suffice it to say that recognition and documentation of these human rights violations mattered deeply to the victims, and I would dare to say that for many, money was not the only objective, if it was one at all.

For each claim, a number of points would be assigned depending on the type or severity of violations committed. Enforced disappearance and killing ranked highest on the list, meriting 10 points. Other violations included arbitrary detention and torture. For each point there was a corresponding monetary amount. It took some years before payments to claimants could be distributed, understandably so, as one might imagine that these claims were subject to close scrutiny. The first round of payments was made in 2017, and the board closed its operations a year later.


I write here at length about this process because of a deep frustration that, decades after the 1986 Edsa People Power Revolution, we must continue to call out attempts at historical revisionism. It frustrates me that we must continue to turn martial law into a he-said-she-said game of history of Marcos vs Aquino camps, a game of fallacies where condemning one must be tantamount to glorifying the other.

Amid recent discussions about the proposed nonworking holiday in Ilocos Norte honoring the late dictator, Neri Colmenares tweeted his personal experience of torture and imprisonment under martial law. The comments that followed were a horrifying peek into the willful ignorance that plagues many a debate about Ferdinand Marcos. Apart from the usual fallacies, what stood out to me were so many saying that there is no proof of injustice under the Marcos dictatorship — when there is so much documentation to the contrary. Photos, cut-outs from collegiate publications. A letter from the dean of the UP College of Fine Arts informing my grandfather that his son was “picked up” at a rally. My father’s name in newsprint in the Bulletin, September 1980. Pieces of our family’s personal history in black and white photocopies. And ours was just one claim among thousands.

What was the use of victims needing to gather documents and submit them for review and for posterity, if people could just go around saying “no proof” years later? I wish I could bring people back to the long lines of victims filing claims of human rights violations. I think of how many must have died before seeing a centavo of compensation. I think of how many other victims passed away long before a Human Rights Victims’ Claims Board could even be created.

Many are tired of reading about martial law, which is a subject that seems to have come up more and more often in recent years. Weary of the topic myself, equally weary of being falsely called “dilawan,” I write now in support of the truth that these claims of human rights abuses exist, often supported by documentation, officially recognized and compensated by the government. Reality doesn’t shift the closer you inch toward Ilocos Norte. The fact of one ruler’s benevolence or popularity in one territory does not erase the heinousness of acts committed or enabled in another. When the day comes that people will stop trying to rewrite this part of history, or claiming that there is no proof of the things that victims and their families experienced… maybe then, we won’t need to write about it.

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TAGS: Ferdinand Marcos, Hints and Symbols, kay rivera, Marcos martial law
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