The travails of martial law victims
DAVAO CITY—Jobless and widowed, Rowena, 44, continues to break into tears each time she recalls her ordeal during martial law.
Her parents joined the New People’s Army, leaving her and her siblings to the care of relatives and strangers.
Soldiers were hot on her parents’ trail in 1983, when, while going home from school, she and her sisters were picked up and forced into a van that brought them to a military camp.
She sobbed uncontrollably as she narrated the rest of her story. Separated from her sisters, she was gang-raped by soldiers. She was 14 years old. The horrific events haunted her for years, like a curse.
Rowena queued as a martial law compensation claimant in February this year, asking why her name was not on the list.
She just lost her job at a plywood factory in Toril District here where she worked, after a piece of wood fell on her, knocking her unconscious. The company refused to shoulder the cost of her medical checkup.
When she approached Betty de Vera, member of Claimants 1081, Rowena was told she needed documents to prove her story.
Rowena said she and De Vera spent time in jail together during the days of the dictatorship.
Rowena was not on the initial list of over 10,000 (the number has been reduced to 9,539) martial law victims who filed a case in a Hawaii court, demanding compensation from the estate of the dead dictator Ferdinand Marcos.
The claims started to be paid in February.
President Aquino constituted the human rights compensation and recognition board this year, the intention was for Republic Act No. 10368, or the law that provided reparation and recognition for victims of the Marcos dictatorship, to reach out to more survivors of the dark era.
But leaders of the political detainees’ group Selda expressed doubts.
Selda said the long list of documents required and the short period of time allotted to martial law claimants to prove and submit their claims were discouraging many victims from even filing their claims.
Posters on RA 10368 have been distributed to announce the filing period for martial law victims from May 12 to Nov. 10 this year, informing claimants that failing to file within this period would be “deemed a waiver.”
Fe Salino, secretary general of Selda in Southern Mindanao, said claimants in other areas were already complaining that the time allotted by the board to evaluate the claims was too short to accommodate all the victims.
Members of the human rights compensation claims board, for instance, are scheduled to be in Southern Mindanao for three days in August this year to receive affidavits and applications of victims.
“But Southern Mindanao is such a wide area that martial law survivors coming from far-flung and mountainous areas in [the provinces of] Compostela Valley, Davao del Norte and Davao del Sur may have a hard time coming,” Salino said.
“Most of the martial law victims are old and poor,” she said. “They live very far; they cannot just easily go out of their house to go to the city. Sometimes, they still needed to borrow money for their fare,” she added.
She said the long list of documents that were required was enough to intimidate victims.
“They will be required to put in writing a statement of what they’d gone through, and to have the statement notarized,” she said.
“But after that, they have to get at least two witnesses to testify that they were with her and two more disinterested parties to testify, and have all these statements notarized. How are they going to spend for that?” she added.
Top leaders of Selda also questioned before the Supreme Court the composition of the human rights compensation board itself, which is now headed by a security force closely identified with the Marcos dictatorship.
“I thought the most difficult part was telling the story,” said Erlin Adaro Abayon, a former political detainee who labored over her statement for hours, recalling the actual dates and places of her detention.
“But when I was done, I realized the more difficult part was where to find the witnesses of what I went through,” she added.
“It’s very difficult because some of the witnesses are already dead, others are already living very far. You have to spend and travel before you can find them,” Salino said.
“A long time has elapsed from the time the human rights violations were committed, and people are no longer around, most of them have retired,” she added.
Salino tried to secure a testimony from the head of the custodial unit responsible for her detention in the Camp Domingo Leonor barracks in 1971, but the man refused. “Either he wanted money or he was afraid because signing it might make him liable,” she said.
“Under the law, he can spend as long as 10 years in prison if proven to have violated human rights,” she added.
Abayon said she was picked up for a second time and arrested in Manukan, Zamboanga del Sur province, in 1983 but there was nobody who can testify for her.
“There were so many people, but I don’t know any of them, how can I get them to testify?” she said.
As a former church worker during martial law, she said her only hope would be the testimony of Archbishop Fernando Capalla, who once visited her in jail.
As Selda calls on more martial law survivors to come out to have their names listed as claimants, Rowena is already nowhere to be found.
When she talked to other compensation claimants in February, she was desperately looking for money to have her bones checked. Faced with mounting debts, she said she had been avoiding her old house to avoid her creditors.
Salino said Selda would demand that the board extend its stay in each area to accommodate all compensation claimants.
She said the board members should spend at least three days in Davao City and also three days each in Compostela Valley and other provinces.
“They have to cover Southern Mindanao in one to two weeks,” she said. “If they stick to their schedule, the only claimants they will cover will be those who already received compensation from the Hawaii court.”
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