Thursday, January 20, 2011

Wanted: website for ML victims-claimants

INQUIRER JAN. 15 banner headline: “$1,000 for Marcos victims.”

In the story: “A federal judge in Honolulu approved on Thursday the distribution of $7.5 million to settle a lawsuit filed by thousands of victims of torture, execution and abduction under the Marcos regime. The distribution provides the victims their first opportunity to collect something since they sued in 1986. Each eligible member of the class-action lawsuit will receive $1,000 under the plan approved by US District Judge Manuel Real.”

And so two nights ago I pulled out from my steel drawer the thick folder on which I had written in big, thick letters in 1993: “PROOF OF CLAIM of MA. CERES P. DOYO, Journalist. Re Estate of Ferdinand E. Marcos, Human Rights Litigation, MDL 840, CLASS ACTION.” Below it I had scrawled, “Mailed, July 19, 1993” and “9539 claimants.”

The folder was inside a clear plastic envelope with a missing zip lock. I couldn’t help thinking that had my house gone under the 2009 “Ondoy” flood, as many Metro Manila homes had, these documents would have become flotsam. I found them dry and intact but yellowed.

Inside were supporting documents (news clippings, publications) and my personal account on what I had gone through during the martial law years. Letters/notices from the law offices of Robert A. Swift and Rodrigo C. Domingo were also inside. I received the latest one last month.

My experiences were nothing compared to what thousands had suffered. Many of them, I was told, did not, could not, file a claim because to recall the torment and torture they had suffered was like reliving their suffering all over again. Nothing could compensate their loss and pain.

But why did I file? (So did the editor in chief of the Philippine Daily Inquirer.) It was to bolster the claims of 10,000 or 9,539 victims to be exact. The compensation I will receive, my journalist’s mite, will not go to my pocket.

And so as of today, it’s supposed to be just a breath away, the $1,000 or P44,000 for each of the 9,539 claimants (now reportedly reduced to 7,526) seeking compensation for the human rights abuses they suffered during the martial law years under Ferdinand E. Marcos.

The amount looks like a miserable pittance or “loose change” compared to the claimants’ claim against the Marcos estate that is in the billions of ill-gotten/hidden wealth. But no one is protesting, because: One, there should be more where it’s coming from and this amount is just the first tranche, so to speak. Two—and this is even more important—this is not about the money but a historic victory that would vindicate the human victims of an evil reign. But yes, the money is also important especially for those who are poor and infirm who have long waited for justice to come their way.

The two groups of claimants, Claimants 1081 and Selda, which are not in a great relationship ideologically and otherwise, have not expressed differing opinions.

The latest notice from the lawyers has the heading “Notice of distribution of proceeds from judgment and application for counsel fees and expenses.” It says that claimants “need not appear at the hearing or take any other action if you approve of, or do not object to, the application of class counsel for attorneys fees and expenses.”

What is worrisome is that there is a paragraph with the heading “Eligibility of Class Members” and which goes: “Not all Class Members are eligible to receive payment. The Hawaii Federal Court required class members in both 1993 and 1999 to submit Claim Forms. Only those Class Members who submitted complete Claim Forms in each of those years will be eligible to receive payment. It is too late to submit or supplement a Claim Form.”

Is the non-submission of 1993 and 1999 claim forms the reason why the number of claimants has been drastically reduced?

It is now time for the Swift and Domingo law offices to put up a website that claimants can access for information and direct questions to. I have received queries myself and I cannot say I know the answers. Like: Would claimant so-and so be still on the list? Is $1,000 all there is? What about deceased claimants?

Claimants 1081 has a blogsite ( and supplies information on the class suit, but the entries are a bit dated and have nothing on the recent ruling on the $7.5M.

Despite victory in the courts, thousands of victims of human rights violations during the martial law regime remain empty-handed and continue to hope for their just compensation. Four administrations after Marcos have not helped in dispensing justice and have instead stood in the way. For the final hurdle, the lawmakers have only to sign their names to pass the Human Rights Compensation Bill, but why the long delay?

Speaking for the victims-claimants who are mostly poor, former chair of Claimants 1081 and now chair of the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) Etta Rosales told me some time ago: “The Republic of the Philippines has succeeded in blocking the Marcos victims from the partial enforcement of a judgment they had won in US courts.”

Dead, dying, aging, sickly, poor. Many had waited for so long until time overcame them. The surviving generation, the strong who are still able-bodied continue to wait. Many are now senior citizens.

The CHR is expected to play a role in the distribution of compensations. It would be good if the commission could team up with the claimants’ lawyers in putting up a website on the claims. This should help prevent messy disputes and allow only those qualified and deserving to experience the justice they have been waiting for, almost in vain.

I hope the government does not stand in the way.