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Philippine martial law victims face compensation delays

Police general heading claims board is 'insult to injury,' victim says

<p>Philippine martial law victims face delays in receiving compensation from the government (Photo by Joe Torres)</p>

Philippine martial law victims face delays in receiving compensation from the government (Photo by Joe Torres)

  • Joe Torres, Manila
  • Philippines
  • July 16, 2014
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They suffered the pain of torture and incarceration during the dark years when martial law ruled the Philippines. Today, they have to endure long queues to be compensated for their suffering.

"The ordeal of filing for compensation is like going through the eye of a needle," complains Marie Hilao-Enriquez, a former political detainee who now heads the human rights group Karapatan.

"How do you expect victims, many of whom are farmers and ordinary people, to acquire documents? How could they ask for legal papers when they were massacred, abducted, arrested and tortured in huge numbers?" says Enriquez. 

She says martial law victims, many of whom are in their 50s, are asked to produce government-issued birth certificates, marriage certificates, death certificates, and even original release papers from prison. 

The Philippine government last year passed a law, the Human Rights Victims Reparation and Recognition Act of 2013, to recognize victims of martial law, and indemnify them for the sufferings they experienced. 

President Benigno Aquino created the Human Rights Violations Compensation Board, which is ironically headed by a retired police general, to process and accept applications from martial law victims.

The decision to compensate the victims of the 20-year dictatorship of Ferdinand Marcos is both vindicating and long overdue, says Pidot Villocino, who was tortured while in detention. 

"A lot of opportunities were lost for those who fought the injustices committed by the dictator and his cohorts," he says, adding that compensation "should be released without delay to help rebuild broken lives".

"After all these years, I never thought that this day will come," says Redemptorist Fr Amado Picardal, who was arrested and tortured.

The priest says it is not the money that he is after but the recognition of the justness of the struggle against human rights abuses.

The government has set aside some US$230 million for the compensation of victims.

"The recognition is part of the closure and healing process. I do not see myself as just a victim, but a survivor," he says.

The priest says preparing his sworn statement "was an overwhelming experience, having to recall the traumatic incident". He says he is still haunted by a recurring nightmare that brings back the feeling of helplessness and terror.

But Enriquez says the government is trying to sabotage the process of recognizing the victims with the appointment of the police general to head the claims board.

"It was an added insult to the injury left behind by martial law," she says.

She says the application process also does not accommodate -- and even discourages -- martial law victims from filing claims. 

"The claims board asks for too many requirements from the victims, many of which were outright unnecessary," Enriquez says, adding that victims "were even made to suffer more".

The law states that only legal heirs of victims are required to present birth certificates for proof of relationship to the victim. 

Applicants who are direct victims only need to present an affidavit narrating the circumstances of the violation they experienced and any government-issued identification card, as well as other supporting documents.

"This is not what is happening," says Enriquez. "The application process should accommodate the majority of those who have come forward to file," she says, adding that it is the claims board’s task to prove the veracity of the claims.

"Denying applications this early is contrary to the principle of recognizing victims," Enriquez says, citing that only a few of the thousands who arrived from faraway provinces were accommodated in regional on-site centers set up by the claims board.

In the city of Angeles in Pampanga province, the board only accepted 300 applicants in two days. Enriquez says 100 more victims were unable to file their applications. 

In Lucena City, only 93 individuals were processed out of more than 600 victims who went to file their applications. 

In Iloilo City, only 268 victims were processed in two days out of more than 800 victims who arrived from different parts of the island of Panay.

Dr Aurora Parong, a member of the Human Rights Claims Board, says that there are difficulties in processing claims.

"We are holding regional caravans to make us accessible to the victims, but because we only have two teams, we are really constrained," she tells ucanews.com.

Parong, former head of Amnesty International in the Philippines, says two months after the board accepted applications "there were already about 4,000 applicants".

The claims board aims to register some 20,000 to 30,000 applicants by November 10 when the application process ends.

"It will [be] deemed a waiver if one cannot apply by that time," Parong says.

She says it is important to list more people "because we want to show the truth about what happened during the years of martial law".

Satur Ocampo, the longest-held political prisoner during the martial law years, says the board should therefore recognize the 9,539 members of the class action suit filed against former dictator  Marcos as martial law victims.

The law states that it recognizes members of the historic class action suit filed against Marcos, who died in 1989, but does not mention the number of victims that total 9,539.

"We demand that the claims board acquire a copy of the master list of class suit members where the 9,539 victims are listed," says Ocampo, who is among the so-called "delisted" class suit members. 

Delisted members pertain to the more than 2,000 Hawaii-court recognized victims who were arbitrarily dropped from the list of class suit members and were unable to claim reparation in two settlement agreements made earlier.

Parong says the board knows that there were those who were not able to file their complaint before the Honolulu court, "so we hope that there will be more people who will register".

Under the law, those who are qualified to claim payments include petitioners to the US$2 billion-class suit in Hawaii against the Marcos estate, victims recognized by the Monument of Heroes Foundation, and undocumented victims not under the first two categories.

Parong says the law also paves the way for the inclusion of victims’ stories in school textbooks, adding that schoolchildren today have not heard of the victims’ heroism and struggles during the martial law years.

"We can include their stories in the local histories of towns and cities," says Parong, who was jailed for more than a year for supposedly providing medical assistance to rebels.

Parong appeals to claimants to look at the reparation as a token instead of a pay out. "How can you pay for the sufferings which until now still linger?" she says.

Enriquez, meanwhile, says that "ultimately" what everybody wants is "just recognition and reparation to be given to the victims".

"They've suffered enough. They've kicked out a dictator. They will not let their suffering be forgotten," she says.

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