Almost four decades after he was arrested and tortured and his sister disappeared into a maze of Philippine police cells and military houses, playwright Bonifacio Ilagan is finally seeing his suffering officially recognized.
A writer for an underground communist newspaper, Ilagan and thousands like him were rounded up by security forces of the dictator Ferdinand Marcos after he placed the Philippines under martial law in 1972. Detentions, beatings, harassment and killings of the regime’s opponents continued until Marcos was toppled in the 1986 Edsa People Power Revolution.
Even though democracy was restored, it would take another 27 years for Congress to vote on a bill awarding compensation and recognition to martial law victims.
On Monday, the House of Representatives and the Senate ratified the bill after the bicameral committee earlier in the day signed the final version of the bill following some last-minute polishing.
President Aquino is expected to sign the bill into law shortly, possibly before the anniversary of the Edsa People Power Revolution that ousted Marcos.
“More than the monetary compensation, the bill represents the only formal, written document that martial law violated the human rights of Filipinos and that there were courageous people who fought the dictatorship,” said a statement from Selda, an organization of former political prisoners.
Ilagan’s story is more of a rule than exception among leftist activists of his generation.
“The torture started in the house. We were beaten up, punched and kicked,” he said, recalling a police raid on his residence in April 1974 and the beginning of his two-year detention ordeal.
He said he vomited blood after being kicked in the thighs. The soles of his foot had been burned by an iron, he added.
“The one episode in my torture that I cannot forget was when they ordered me to remove my pants and underwear and they inserted a piece of stick into my penis. ‘Oh my God,’ I said, this is one torture I could not bear,”’ the 61-year-old said in an interview.
He said that interrogators wanted him to decode documents and identify people in pictures that were seized from suspected communists.
“Compared to others, mine was not the worst torture,” he said. “The others were electrocuted and injected with truth serum. … But the threats continued.”
Ilagan’s sister, Rizalina, disappeared in 1976 along with nine other activists, many of them students involved in anti-Marcos publications, he said.
One of the women arrested by the same government unit that he suspected was involved in his sister’s abduction had escaped to recount her rape and torture. Ilagan said he has no doubt that his sister went through the same abuses.
His parents died still hoping his sister would turn up alive, but the family has found no closure, Ilagan said.
Despite cases filed by former political prisoners, “there have been no convictions of perpetrators,” Marie Hilao-Enriquez, chairperson of Selda, said Monday.
“Governments after Marcos did not move or did not do anything to go after Marcos seriously, so we filed a case in Hawaii,” Enriquez said.
In 1992, the victims won a class action suit against the Marcos estate in Hawaii.
Under the Human Rights Victims Reparation and Recognition Act of 2013, the 9,539 victims in the Hawaii class action suit against the Marcoses will be awarded compensation using $246 million, roughly P10 billion, that the government recovered from Marcos’ ill-gotten wealth deposited in Swiss bank accounts.
The bill states that these plaintiffs would be presumed victims of martial law abuses, which means they would no longer have to prove their claims for compensation.
Also to be conclusively recognized as Marcos victims are those in the list of the Bantayog ng mga Bayani foundation.
The amount each will receive will depend on the abuse suffered.
Loretta Rosales, chairperson of the Commission on Human Rights, said her agency was looking at around 6,000 cases of abuses during the Marcos years. If there are two victims for each case, there could be 12,000 more claimants eligible for compensation, she said.
“Finally, over two decades after the fall of the dictatorship, we will have a law that puts the responsibility of human rights abuses square on the shoulder of Marcos and provides justice for all those who suffered under his reign,” said Rep. Walden Bello, a member of a congressional committee that drafted and approved the bill.
“This bill should make us realize that never again should we allow (the atrocities) of the Marcos regime to happen in this country,” Sen. Francis Escudero said after the Senate ratified the 16-page bicameral report.
“After 25 years, I really hope that the Marcos compensation bill would be signed in time for the Edsa One celebration,” the senator said.
Escudero noted that many of the victims of martial rule were more interested in being recognized and listed in the Roll of Victims than in receiving reparation, citing Sen. Joker Arroyo.
There would be cases when the Human Rights Claim Board itself would recognize unilaterally a martial law victim and put his name in the roll even if he does not apply for recognition, he added. With reports from AP, Leila B. Salaverria and Cathy C. Yamsuan
Originally posted: 6:06 pm | Monday, January 28th, 2013