Symbolic first $1,000 for each martial law victim | Inquirer Opinion
Human Face

Symbolic first $1,000 for each martial law victim

TWO DAYS ago, Tuesday, March 1, 2011, at a little past 10 a.m., I received my check for P43,200 (the equivalent of $1,000). I was the 28th martial law victim/claimant to receive a check on the first day of distribution (for those with surnames beginning with A to E) in Metro Manila. The checks were given out at the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) compound in Quezon City.

Under the shade of a star apple tree heavily laden with fruits was a tent where claimants were processed and their proof of claim and IDs inspected. After this process, a claimant was given a number and told to proceed to the CHR mini-auditorium where the check distribution was being done.


Flashback: Last January, Honolulu Judge Manuel Real approved the distribution of $7.5 million to settle a class action suit filed in 1986 by rights abuse victims of the Marcos regime.

In 1995, a landmark decision by a US federal grand jury in Honolulu found the Marcos estate liable for torture, summary executions and disappearances of about 10,000 people and awarded the victims $2 billion in damages.


Only now do we taste the first trickle, 25 years after the Marcoses were toppled by people power, and almost to the day.

Robert A. Swift, the US attorney who led the legal battle in the US courts on behalf of almost 10,000 claimants, was there himself to give out the checks to every qualified claimant. Filipino counsel Rod C. Domingo Jr. was also there to welcome the steady stream of claimants.

Seated behind a desk, Swift went over the notice letter and IDs while an assistant pulled out the claimant’s check from a pile. The claimant signed, and Swift extended his hand for a handshake. The claimant was then photographed while holding his/her check.

Some claimants (victims themselves, aging parents of deceased victims and the disappeared) were in wheelchairs, others came hobbling through the pathways. Younger and able-bodied people like myself marched in with smiles on our faces, but I felt my tears welling up when an elderly woman sobbed before me while speaking about her younger brother, an activist, who went missing and was later found dead during the reign of terror.

The day before, on Feb. 28, a dozen individuals received their checks at Club Filipino where a press announcement was held. Among them were friends of mine:  Hilda Narciso, Fe Mangahas and Ed Gerlock.

Hilda, a church worker, was detained and raped repeatedly in the 1980s. I had written about her case and kept a copy of her smuggled prison letter that detailed her horrible ordeal. Hilda has personally represented claimants in court appearances.

Fe, an activist and academic, was thrown into prison like her poet husband Roger.


Ed is an American Maryknoll missionary who was detained and later deported. He’s back here and works with an NGO for the elderly.

I had a talk with Domingo and he did say that the $7.5 million that was yielded from a Marcos crony stash (and from which this first compensation was taken) was some kind of a surprise find, so there should be more where this came from.

The question I was raring to ask was: Why is there no opposition from the government this time? Swift said with a disappointed tone that as early as six months ago, the Aquino government had been notified about the money for the claimants but there was no reply whatsoever. What does the silence mean?

CHR Chair Etta Rosales, co-founder of Claimants 1081, has said that all previous governments (after Marcos), except the present one, stood in the way of compensation because, they argued, recovered ill-gotten wealth should go to the national treasury. Does Malacañang’s silence on this historic event now mean that the government is looking the other way? Fine, then.

I have always held the position that even if a big chunk of the Marcoses’ hidden and ill-gotten wealth goes to victims/claimants, the money will circulate in and benefit this country. Better than it going to government coffers, getting stolen, wasted or squandered.

Domingo assured that a petition will be filed to re-instate the 2,000 plus claimants stricken off the list of 9,539. These were those who had filed claims in 1993 but did not, as mandated by the court, refile in 1999. There is enough money left for the remaining claimants, Domingo told me.

There were glitches on the first day, of course, but these could be fixed. In my column some weeks ago, I suggested a website for this event so that claimants could get answers to frequently asked questions (FAQ). There was indeed some failure in communication regarding distribution. The ongoing distribution in Metro Manila, it turns out, is just for claimants with addresses in Metro Manila. Those from the province who rushed to Manila did not get their checks. They will have to go home and wait for the notice of distribution in their areas.

I happily suggested to Domingo that the 9,539 folders containing the bloody cases of the victims (kept by Domingo in a bodega) should later be turned over to the historical archives.

$1,000 each is a pittance and cannot compensate for the sufferings of thousands. And to Imelda Marcos who said that this class suit has “turned into a business,” I say: “You spit on the blood of thousands who died for freedom. You have no shame.”

On behalf of the 9,539 claimants, I say 9,539 thank you’s to Swift, Domingo and their collaborators.

Words from claimant Thelma Arceo, mother of Ferdie Arceo, an Ateneo student activist killed by the military in 1973: “This small amount is not a measure of our suffering. This is not a measure of the Marcoses’ guilt either. This is a proof of their guilt.”

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