Amid the hoopla of the People Power I celebration, President Aquino on Monday signed a law compensating close to 10,000 victims of human rights violations during martial law as he exhorted Filipinos to “celebrate a race that will never again be oppressed.”
The colorful commemoration at the Edsa People Power Monument of the 27th anniversary of the People Power I that toppled strongman Ferdinand Marcos in February 1986 served as a backdrop for the signing of the Human Rights Victims Reparation and Recognition Act of 2013.
“It’s clear: Our quest for justice doesn’t end with today’s commemoration. That’s why today, we have signed the Human Rights Victims Reparation Act of 2013 as a recognition of the suffering experienced by many people during martial law, and show that even after a generation has passed, we never lost heart to rectify the mistakes of the past,” Aquino said before a large crowd, mostly clad in yellow shirts.
Healing of wounds
Aquino thanked Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile, Speaker Feliciano Belmonte and countless other lawmakers who pushed for the passage of the measure and ensured that the government recognize the victims’ suffering and lead them to a “complete healing of the wounds of the past.” Enrile is a former Marcos defense minister and a key player in the 1986 peaceful revolt.
Former President Fidel V. Ramos and former Sen. Agapito “Butz” Aquino—two key players in the revolt—as well as Vice President Jejomar Binay, Belmonte, Executive Secretary Paquito Ochoa, other Cabinet officials, lawmakers, ambassadors, student and youngsters witnessed the signing.
Conspicuously absent from the celebration were Enrile, who led the defense ministry’s defection from Marcos in 1986, and Sen. Gregorio “Gringo” Honasan III, Enrile’s aide at the time. Enrile is one of the three leaders of the opposition United Nationalist Alliance, and Honasan is seeking reelection under its banner.
Martial law victim and survivor Bonifacio “Boni” Ilagan hailed the enactment of the law.
“For those who fought against the dictatorship, for those whose rights had been trampled upon, the Human Rights Victims’ Reparation Act of 2013 is very meaningful. More than the monetary help, this is one way for us to always remember the past. We know the tragedy that awaits us if history is erased from our memory,” Ilagan said in a speech.
Its lasting legacy is “posterity and a challenge to learn from history,” he added.
Loretta Ann Rosales, chairperson of the Commission on Human Rights, said Republic Act No. 10368 should warn “instruments of injustice to mend their ways.”
“That soldiers and policemen, such as those we see before us right now, are protectors of the people and not of conjugal dictators, unjust politicians and greedy businessmen,” said Rosales, herself a torture victim during martial law.
Apart from obligating the government to compensate victims of gross human rights violations, RA 10368 underscores the need to “unravel the truth from the lies” about martial law, contributes to the process of ending impunity and serves as a “symbol of solidarity,” she added.
At least P10 billion
Under the law, the 9,539 victims who filed a class action suit in Hawaii against the Marcoses will be awarded compensation using $246 million, at least P10 billion, that the government recovered from Marcos’ ill-gotten wealth deposited in Swiss bank accounts.
The P10.5 billion is held in escrow at the National Treasury and has earned at least P2.3 billion in interest, according to Malacañang.
The victims won in 1995 a $2-billion judgment from a US district court in Hawaii against the Marcos estate. Under the new law, they would be presumed victims of martial law abuses and do not have to prove their claims for compensation.
Edsa 1 solidarity
In his speech, the President reminded Filipinos that Edsa I, which catapulted his mother, Corazon C. Aquino, to power, was not the property of only a few, or even its key players in 1986.
“This can’t be owned by a few faces that we see in the papers, or the Filipinos who massed on this thoroughfare. They merely responded to the united call by the entire country for freedom, dignity and justice,” he said.
“Like the traditional game ‘palo sebo,’ Edsa is not about who is popular; or who is on top or below. This is not about people who top-bill the news. This is about a wide-ranging solidarity to achieve our aspiration of change,” he said.
From many parts of the archipelago, decent Filipinos gathered together to achieve the impossible and open a new chapter of the country’s history, Aquino said.
“Every Filipino who suffered, every Filipino who had been denied of a future, every Filipino who dreamt but had doubts, theirs is the collective call for a meaningful change that toppled the dictatorship,” he said.
Twenty-seven years later, the country is reaping the fruits of democracy that was restored after Edsa I, the President said.
Economy brings hope
“If before, the world admired us for the hope that we brought to other oppressed races, now they’re admiring us for our economy that is bringing hope to the rest of the world dominated by gloom. We have recovered again and we can be proud of our recovery from the potholes of history,” he said.
But then again, the President said Filipinos should not be content with “falling and recovering” from every challenge, but learn to move forward.
He said he was aware of the many challenges ahead, noting that stumbling blocks to the right path have not been totally removed.
“It’s clear those who benefited from the previous status quo are still here. If we fall gain, if we let go of each other’s grip, if we allow ourselves to be tempted by self-interest, these people will seize the opportunity and take advantage,” he added.
Honor of the race
He said the spirit of Edsa I that restored democracy should serve as an inspiration for the country to forge ahead toward development.
“Every day let’s celebrate the honor of a race that will never again fall, that will never again be oppressed, that will never be contented with the culture of recovery. Every day, let’s commit to heart the new culture of not having any second thoughts, and not having any fear to advance,” Aquino said.
The anniversary celebration began with Aquino, Binay and other officials hoisting the Philippine flag at the left side of the monument, coinciding with flag-raising ceremonies in cities in Metro Manila.
After the ecumenical prayer, the hosts asked the crowd for a moment of silence for the late Fr. James Reuter, S.J., who directed the rebel radio station Radyo Bandido during the people power revolt.
Shortly after, Spirit of Edsa Foundation Awards were handed out to Reuter (posthumously); June Keithley, broadcaster of Radyo Bandido; Ronald Gadayan, glass cleaner and janitor at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport Terminal 2 for his honesty; Luneta coachman Jaime Mayor; and Cris Kesz Valdez, 2012 International Children’s Peace Prize Awardee.
This culminated in the reenactment of “salubungan” with Ramos, then military vice chief of staff and retired Brig. Gen. Ramon Montaño leading the military side, and nuns and seminarians heading the religious side, each group backed by a tank decked in yellow flowers. A shower of confetti dropped from a helicopter as both contingents mingled.
The actual salubungan occurred on Feb. 23, a day after Ramos and then Defense Minister Enrile defected from the Marcos government and the late Jaime Cardinal Sin and Butz Aquino called on people to go to Edsa and protect the rebel forces.