26 Years After the Historic HR Class Suit Decision: An Elusive Victory

All past Philippine administrations from President Corazon Aquino to the incumbent President Benigno Aquino III have failed to indemnify the victims. In a press statement in November 2011, President Benigno Aquino promised to work toward indemnification. But it has so far remained a promise.

Although a special agency called the Presidential Commission on Good Government (PCGG) was created specifically to run after ill-gotten wealth of the Marcoses, its performance has been dismal despite more than two decades of operation.

Former President Fedinand Marcos bought from the funds more than 140 Picasso, Van Gogh and other masters’ paintings that remain missing to this day. Marcos distributed his priceless collection of at least 300 artworks to cronies when his regime crumbled in 1986. Only about half have been recovered according to Andres Bautista, head of the PCGG. (http://newsinfo.inquirer.net/314035/pcgg-146-marcos-paintings-missing)

PCGG failed to record in its book of accounts some USD 50 million in Swiss deposits held in escrow at the PNB. This was reported during an audit that the Commission on Audit conducted. (http://newsinfo.inquirer.net/104085/pcgg-didn’t-account-for-50m-from-marcos–coa)

Recovered assets so far only consist of the Swiss accounts valued at USD 684 million, only half of an estimated 300 piece priceless art collection and several sequestered properties located in the Philippines. The World Bank valued the entire Marcos estate at USD 10 billion in 1986, the time when the PCGG was created.

Shortly before his 2012 state of the nation address, President Benigno S. Aquino III announced his intention to dismantle the PCGG.

Atty. Robert Swift wrote a letter to President Benigno S. Aquino III dated July 2010 asking him toreconsider it position on the Hawaii award and enter into settlement quoting the President’s promise made during his inaugural address that “we all know what is it is like to have a government that plays deaf and dumb; we know what it is like to be denied justice” and “today marks the end of a regime indifferent to the appeals of the people.”

After an article appeared in the major newspaper, (PH Leaders Not Keen on Human Rights, Ninotchka Rosca, Philippine Daily Inquirer, November 17, 2010), the President committed to find a way to compensate the victims. This appeared in the same newspaper the following day (Noynoy vows Compensation for Human Rights Victims, Norman Bordadora, Philippine Daily Inquirer, 18 November 2010).

There has yet to be some form of concrete government action toward the same. The Hawaii award is now valued at USD 4 billion including interest. To date, said human rights victim plaintiffs only received USD 1,000.00 each from the settlement of the cases filed in Colorado.

Several Bills have been filed in the Senate and the lower House of Representatives in the Philippines seeking to legislate the obligation to provide compensation from the Swiss accounts which have been transferred to the Philippine government. Said bills, however, have not garnered legislative support to date and has yet to be passed into law.

In short, the government’s position remains basically unchanged,that is, that all recovered ill-gotten wealth should fund agrarian reform as the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Law mandates. President Benigno Aquino’s November, 2010 commitment to help the victims came with an near insurmountable caveat: that Agrarian Reform Laws be first amended to allow compensation for the victims. (Noynoy vows Compensation for Human Rights Victims, Norman Bordadora,Philippine Daily Inquirer, November 18, 2010.)

Today, Imelda Marcos and her children Imee and Bongbong Marcos all occupy elective local and national positions in government.

The former First Lady and now Ilocos Norte Representative Imelda Marcos is the second richest in the House of Representatives while thousands of the victims are still awaiting government compensation for their suffering.

“We are very insulted with Imelda’s flaunting of her ‘wealth,’ while martial law victims are denied justice and indemnification,” Angie Ipong, secretary general of Samahan ng mga Ex-Detainees Laban sa Detensyon at Aresto said in a statement. (http://newsinfo.inquirer.net/190123/marcos-victims-feel-victimized-again-imelda-now-house’s-2nd-richest)

All public servants in the Philippines are required by Article XI Section 17 of the 1987 Constitution and Section 8 of Republic Act No. 6713 to file their statement of assets, liability and net worth (SALN). It will be recalled that no less than the Chief Justice of the Philippine Supreme Court, Renato Corona, was impeached earlier this year based, among other charges, on his failure to declare the existence of dollar accounts and other misrepresentations of his net worth in his SALN.

Based on her 2011 statement of assets, liabilities and net worth, Imelda Marcos’ declared a net worth of Php 932 million. She ranked second only to boxing superstar and Sarangani Representative Manny Pacquiao. Marcos was worth Php 623.6 million in 2010.

The PCGG’s paltry efforts at recovering ill-gotten wealth are a matter of record. Were it not for the Swiss government’s unilateral move to freeze assets, the Marcoses would have succeeded in withdrawing the same to prevent recovery. As it now stands, the government’s efforts have yielded not even enough in repatriated assets to satisfy the Hawaii award which has bloomed to USD 4 million after two decades.

The government’s failure to recover ill-gotten wealth, however, is irrelevant to its obligation under international covenants it had adhered to. The fact that it is in possession of Marcos assets to draw compensation for the human rights victims raises a question: What is the present dispensation doing?

Thus, the PCGG’s legal stance of invoking sovereign immunity from suit in resisting efforts of the class suit to recover compensatory and exemplary damages for rampant violation of human rights boils down to the unpalatable proposition – the sovereign’s non-recognition of the validity of the victim’s claims.

In light of the UNCHR’s decision holding the Philippine Government liable for unreasonable delay in compensating human rights victims when it allowed a minor issue of administrative filing fees to wallow for six years in the Supreme Court dockets, it is reasonable to ask whether adherence to human rights have progressed that much further from wanton violation during the Marcos dictatorship to lip service in succeeding administrations’ difficult uphill climb to genuine democracy and good standing in the community of nations.

The People Power Revolution finds a new generation of Filipinos who want their history to be accurately recorded and who want to see that justice was done in the historical record 26 years after Martial Law. It is high time for the Philippines to achieve and demonstrate capability of fulfillment of State obligations under both international law and its own Constitution.

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