Bill providing compensation to martial law victims may become law in early 2013

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05:43 PM December 24th, 2012

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December 24th, 2012 05:43 PM

MANILA, Philippines—Proponents of the long-delayed bill to compensate victims of human rights violations during the Marcos dictatorship are hopeful that 2013 will be the year that the measure is finally enacted into law.

The passage of the law would end years of waiting for the victims of torture, killings, and enforced disappearances, and their kin, for remuneration and the official recognition by the state of their ordeal during Martial Law.

Both Houses of Congress are set to hold their bicameral conference in January to reconcile conflicting provisions in their versions of the proposed law, according to Akbayan Rep. Walden Bello, one of the bill’s authors and a member of bicameral committee.

The Senate only passed its version of the bill on Monday last week, while the measure was approved in the House last March/

The bicameral conference committee will have to come out with its final version of the bill by February 2013 so that it could be ratified before congress adjourns for the campaign period for the May elections.

The bill’s co-author Bayan Muna Rep. Neri Colmenares, also a member of the bicameral committee, is optimistic that the measure will be ready for the President’s signature by 2013, and sees no major hitches that could hinder its passage into law.

“I’m sure the compensation bill will pass this time. It’s about time that the most popular bill that did not pass three congresses will pass this time,” Colmenares said.

Bello is likewise hopeful about the bill’s prospects of becoming a law. He explained that the bicameral conference committee did not convene immediately this month because the House panel members wanted to first discuss among themselves what provisions they would be firm on and what would be open to negotiations during the bicameral discussions.

He also said the panel’s members wanted to study whether the 80-20 division of the compensation fund would be legally sound. Under the proposed law, 80 percent of the fund would go to people confirmed as Martial Law victims by a Hawaii court decision, while the 20 percent would be for those de-listed from the Hawaii ruling and for new claimants.

“We have some discussions on that. We want to make sure that’s constitutionally correct,” he said.

Aside from Bello and Colmenares, the other members of the House bicameral conference committee for this bill are Bohol Rep. Rene Relampagos, Deputy Speaker Lorenzo Tañada III, Albay Rep. Edcel Lagman, Makati Rep. Mar-Len Abigail Binay, and Zambales Rep. Ma. Milagros Magsaysay.

President Aquino earlier vowed to help fast-track the passage of the compensation bill by talking to Congress leaders. He gave this assurance in November during a meeting with Swiss President Eveline Widmer-Schlumpf.

Mr. Aquino had said the compensation bill was not just about money, but about the state’s recognition that at one point in the country’s history, the government put up by the people was used to curtail their rights. He also said future generations must formally know of the “nightmare” and “aberrant period” in the country’s history so that this would not be repeated in the future.

The President’s parents also played key roles during Ferdinand Marcos’ rule. His father, Sen. Benigno Aquino Jr., an ardent critic of the Marcoses, was assassinated on the tarmac after returning from exile in the United States in 1983.

His killing outraged people and solidified the movement to oust Marcos from power, which paved the way for the President’s mother, Corazon Aquino, to ascend to the presidency.

Under the House version of the compensation bill, the tax-free remuneration for victims or their kin would be taken from Marcos’ ill-gotten wealth that Swiss authorities have returned to the Philippines.

The victims would also be entitled to non-monetary compensation from various government agencies.

The bill also declares it the policy of the state to recognize the heroism and sacrifices of all Filipinos who were victims of summary execution, torture, enforced or involuntary disappearance and other gross human rights violations committed during the Marcos regime, and to restore the victims’ honor and dignity.

It also says the state acknowledges its moral and legal obligation to recognize and/or compensate said victims and/or their families for the deaths, injuries, sufferings, deprivations and damages they suffered under the Marcos regime.

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