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Marcos victims push for second claims board

/ 05:24 AM October 19, 2020

MANILA, Philippines — A bill that would create a second claims board for reparations to tens of thousands of people who are still not officially recognized as victims of state-sponsored violence during the Marcos regime has been filed in the House of Representatives.

House Bill No. 7678 was introduced by the Makabayan bloc days before the commemoration of the 48th anniversary of the declaration of martial law on Sept. 23, 1972.

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“While no amount of monetary reparation will restore lost lives, properties, broken relations and dreams of the human rights violations’ victims and families, the reparation is important for them, as it forms part of the overall recognition of the reality of human rights violations and the immeasurable suffering under the Marcos regime,” it read.

Denied, disqualified

The measure would create a new, second claims board to accommodate the other 64,000 victims, now in their twilight years, who were denied or disqualified under the first, now-dissolved board created by Republic Act No. 10368.

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Passed in 2013, RA 10368 provides reparation and recognition of victims of summary execution, torture, enforced disappearances and other gross human rights violations committed under the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos’ regime from 1972 to 1986.

“With the Human Rights Violations Claims Board officially functus officio (expired mandate), there is a growing clamor among many martial law victims and relatives for a new law that would continue the recognition and reparation as mandated under RA 10368,” the bill read.

Sally Bacarra, secretary general of political prisoners group Selda, said the claimants were lobbying to pass the bill “as soon as possible, and hopefully while [most of them are] still alive,”

“We’re really hoping for the urgent passage of this bill because the victims now, they’re passing away one by one because of old age without even seeing justice,” Bacarra told the Inquirer. “We’re really hoping that the bill will be passed within this period and that their claims will be granted during their lifetimes.”

The bill would tap the P10 billion from the wealth of the Marcoses that has already been remitted to the Bureau of Treasury.

Application process

It would also remedy some of the problematic provisions under the first claims board, to create a more just reparations application process that is more “responsive and considerate” to the circumstances of most victims of human rights violations, Bacarra said.

One of the biggest changes, for example, is to explicitly bar any current or former member of the Philippine National Police, Armed Forces of the Philippines, and the now-defunct Philippine Constabulary, among other groups, from being part of the composition of the new claims board.

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The first board was headed by former Police Gen. Lina Sarmiento, a former member of the Constabulary and later of the PNP during martial law.

Human rights groups had contested Sarmiento’s appointment by then Justice Secretary Leila de Lima, who insisted that she was never complicit to any human rights abuses committed during martial law.

Bacarra said that still, because the human rights claims board is a quasijudicial body, “how can you expect a fair judgment if there is a member who was a state agent?”

Legal requirements

HB 7678 also tweaks the documents and evidence needed to apply and qualify for reparations, Bacarra said.

She explained that so many were denied under the first claims board because of mere technicalities, even considering that most of the victims were poor, rural peasants who were not versed in legal requirements like affidavits.

Technicalities

“That was the first problem back then because the board gave so much weight to hard evidence when so many victims were saying, ‘How can we even produce a police blotter about this violation when we can’t even go to the police?’” she said. “This overreliance on technicalities is unfair to the victims, who are mostly farmers and poor folks. It’s really rather pitiful.”

The bill would grant claims to victims whose cases have already been conclusively presumed under the Hawaii class suit filed against the Marcoses, as well as those recognized by the Bantayog ng mga Bayani Foundation.

Rigors of applying

The first claims board inexplicably denied some of these claims and even made them go through the rigors of applying, Bacarra said.

“We started talking with the Makabayan bloc about this last year because so many were denied reparations under the first claims board,” she said. “If this is passed, actually, even new applicants from the provinces who were not able to catch up with the first claims board’s deadline can also benefit from the new claims board.”

The bill has yet to undergo hearings, Bacarra said as she expressed caution about its chances of approval by lawmakers, noting that the Duterte administration had shown favor to the Marcoses.

“It’s going to be an uphill battle for the victims, especially considering the present composition of the administration and Congress,” she said. “We know the chances are slim but this won’t stop us from doing something. We will not rest until we have successfully pushed the envelope on behalf of the thousands who suffered under the Marcos regime.”

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TAGS: Human Rights Violations Claim Board, Makabayan bloc, Marcos martial law victims
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