Marcos victims bill mired in debate
Lawmakers crafting the final bicameral version of a bill granting compensation to victims of human rights violations during martial law are debating whether or not to automatically recognize a certain group of claimants for indemnification or to open the fund to all claimants.
Despite this snag, however, they remained optimistic a final version of the measure would be ready for ratification by the Senate and House of Representatives when both houses resume sessions on Jan. 21.
The first bicameral conference committee meeting was held last week and another is scheduled for Wednesday.
The compensation bill seeks to provide tax-free remuneration to victims of human rights violations or their relatives during the dictatorship of the late President Ferdinand Marcos. The funds would be taken from the Marcoses’ ill-gotten wealth that Swiss authorities have returned to the Philippines and which stands at about P10 billion.
Akbayan Rep. Walden Bello and Bayan Muna Rep. Neri Colmenares said the bicameral conference committee debated during its meeting last week on whether or not it would be fair to automatically recognize the claimants in the Hawaii class suit against the Marcoses as human rights victims entitled to compensation.
The House version of the bill states that there would be a conclusive presumption that claimants in the Hawaii suit were victims of human rights violations, while the Senate version provides for a disputable presumption, meaning their claims would be subject to validation.
Bello believes the panel is moving toward adopting the position of disputable presumption, which would allow those who have doubts about the validity of the Hawaii claimants to contest their status and present proof against them.
Discussions on sharing
Another point that was the subject of much discussion was the proposed 80-20 sharing of the compensation fund in the House bill, where the bigger chunk would go to the martial law victims recognized by the Hawaii court, and 20 percent to all other claimants.
Bello said several lawmakers raised questions about this provision’s constitutionality and fairness, and the matter had yet to be resolved.
He said they contended that it would violate the equal protection clause in the Constitution, which is intended to prevent undue favoritism or hostility from the government toward a certain group. They also believed it would be unfair to the many other victims who opted not to join the class suit against the Marcoses in the Hawaii court.
Bello himself shared similar concerns. “My personal view on that is that I’m very worried about the constitutionality question. I want to be very fair, that everybody has an equal chance to be compensated,” he said.
“There is a strong sentiment that we make sure we don’t have a constitutionally infirm law,” he added.
Colmenares said the bicameral conference also debated on whether to recognize the human rights violations against all martial law victims, or only against those who were exercising their rights “peacefully.”
The Senate version states that one of the human rights violations entitled to compensation is the infliction by a person in government or a state agent of physical injury upon, or the torture, killing or violation of other human rights, of any person “peacefully” exercising civil or political rights.
The House version does not include the word “peacefully” and only states that one of the violations is the commission by a state agent or a person acting in an official capacity of physical injury, torture, killing, harassment, deprivation of liberty or similar acts.
Who’ll make up board?
Discussions are also expected to continue on the composition of the board that would determine how much the victims would receive and oversee the implementation of the program, according to Colmenares.
The Senate version states that the claims board would consist of two representatives from Congress and three representatives from Task Force Detainees of the Philippines (TFDP), the Free Legal Assistance Group (FLAG) and the Movement of Attorneys for Brotherhood, Integrity and Nationalism (Mabini).
The House bill proposes the compensation board be composed of seven members selected by the President from a list provided by a nominations committee. The committee would be composed of representatives from the Commission on Human Rights, TFDP, Families of Victims of Involuntary Disappearance (FIND), and Samahan ng Mga Ex-Detainees Laban sa Detensyon at Aresto (Selda).
It further provides for a consultative body that would identify and monitor the legitimate victims entitled to compensation. It would be composed of representatives from FIND, Selda, TFDP, Claimants 101 and Karapatan.
But though these issues are still up for resolution, Colmenares and Bello both believe that a final agreement would be hammered out soon, possibly in the next meeting this week.