42,564 file human rights claims
MANILA, Philippines–Loretta Rosales was one of many who filed claims for recognition and reparation as human rights victims during the martial law regime of dictator Ferdinand Marcos.
The Commission on Human Rights (CHR) chair went to the Human Rights Victims Claims Board (HRVCB) office in Diliman, Quezon City, on Monday, the last day for applicants to file their claims.
It took her 30 minutes to finish the application process, from filling out a form to claiming her acknowledgment receipt with her photograph on it.
“I was too busy attending to others filing their claims and we also asked for an extension of the filing period. So, it was only today that I was able to file my claim,” Rosales said, holding her claim stub in one hand.
In 1976, she was arrested and tortured. She was blindfolded, molested, subjected to Russian roulette and strangled. A wet rag was stuffed into her mouth. Rosales was released a month after her arrest.
Monday was the last day for human rights victims during martial law to file their claims for part of the P10 billion in compensation money to be awarded to victims.
The HRVCB was open until midnight, accepting claims from victims or their heirs who queued up at the main office on the campus of the University of the Philippines in Quezon City.
As of 5 p.m. on Monday, the HRVCB main office had received a total of 42,564 claims.
HRVCB chair Lina Sarmiento said this figure did not include the claims filed in regional offices.
Some claimants, bringing with them folders and envelopes stuffed with documents, camped out at the HRVCB office as early as Sunday night so that they would be first in line the following morning.
The HRVCB will deliberate on each claim to determine the legitimacy of the claim and entitlement to an award, which will come from the P10 billion set aside for reparation and recognition under Republic Act No. 10368, the Human Rights Victims Reparation and Recognition Act of 2013.
After all claims have been decided upon, the distribution of the award shall be set and announced to the public, Sarmiento said.
The special law, signed by President Aquino in February 2013, aims to provide recognition and reparation, both monetary and nonmonetary, to all victims of human rights violations during the martial law regime.
Aside from reparation, the names of the victims shall be enshrined in the Roll of Victims of Human Rights Violations in acknowledgment of their heroism and sacrifices.
“We also got an assurance from PhilHealth that they will issue IDs and give PhilHealth [insurance] coverage to the claimants,” Sarmiento said.
Rosales expressed optimism that the proposed extension of the filing period would be granted by the Senate and the House of Representatives, which have separate pending measures on the issue.
She did not expect that the figure would go as high as beyond 40,000.
“I think it’s very good. This means to say that these claimants are not just the activists during the martial law regime. These are also the ordinary people who underwent hardships during the dictatorship,” Rosales said.
Some of the claimants, she said, were farmers or peasant folk whose communities were raided and their residents rounded up by the military after the New People’s Army, armed wing of the Communist Party of the Philippines, would pass by.
“This is something we don’t know that the dictatorship did. It is our duty to let others know that it was not only the activists but even ordinary folk who suffered during martial law,” the CHR chair stressed.
The HRVCB went on overtime on Saturday, getting volunteer lawyers from the CHR to help out with the processing of claims.
Sarmiento lamented that some apparently thought of the filing of claims as a money-making scheme.
“This is not the 4Ps,” she said, referring to the government’s conditional cash transfer program for poor families. “It’s not something that you will make money out of.”
She cited some instances wherein claimants would file their applications for a single victim, like a first cousin and an aunt, and a sibling filing separate claims for one victim.
“We ended up turning away the other claims but I am beginning to doubt their stories,” Sarmiento said.
Another case involved a son filing a claim for his deceased father, while his mother filed a claim not for her husband or the son’s father, but for a brother-in-law.
Sarmiento said the board told the mother that she could not file the claim for her brother-in-law because they were not blood relatives.
The claims board has one year to evaluate, verify and investigate the claims, said Dr. Aurora Parong, a member of the HRVCB.
The HRVCB will end its term on May 10, 2016, as prescribed by law.
“Aside from the extension of the application period, we are mulling the extension of the term of the HRVCB,” said Parong, herself a human rights victim.
Rosales said the task of recognizing and awarding reparation to human rights victims was not just confined to the Philippines, as other countries wanted to adopt similar laws.
The CHR chair said she had spoken to human rights officials of Southeast Asian countries like Thailand and Indonesia about RA 10368.
“They want to adopt it for their countries as well. I gave them a copy of our law. They want to study it and adopt it for their countries. I am glad that other countries are inspired by what we did,” Rosales said.