UNCHR Prompts PH Supreme Court on Enforcement of Hawaii Award – 2004

In 2004, the case of Mariano Pimentel, et al. versus  Republic of the Philippines, was filed before the United Nations Human Rights Committee.

The UNCHR complaint arose from a class suit filed in 1997 with the Regional Trial Court of Makati City, Philippines entitled Priscila Mijares versus Estate of Marcos Civil Case No. 97-1052, wherein the human rights victims sought the enforcement of the Hawaii award  with the aid of Philippine courts in collecting the money judgment on Marcos properties.

The Makati City Regional Trial Court dismissed the complaint on 28 September 1998 holding that a filing fee of Php 472 million (USD 8.4 million) had not been paid. The Court reasoned that the filing fee must be based on the amount of the Judgment with interest that totaled USD 2.2 billion. Supreme Court Administrative Circular No. 7 requires a filing fee.

The case was elevated to the Supreme Court of the Philippines which not only failed to act on the petition for six years but promulgated judgment in favor of the Republic against the Marcos Estate in a forfeiture action and directed enforcement of that judgment for over USD 650 million even though that appeal from the Sandiganbayan decision was filed over two years after the petition for certiorari of the Makati Court’s dismissal with the Supreme Court being fully aware of the competing claim of the human rights victims.

These prompted the litigants to seek relief via a complaint with the United Nations Human Rights Committee (UNCHR).

The UNCHR complaintant, Mariano Pimentel, et al. versus Republic of the Philippines, sought a determination by the United Nations Human Rights Committee that the Republic and its Supreme Court have violated the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. It has been maintaining and sanctioning a legal system which, de jure and de facto, prevents human rights victims from obtaining redress or adequate compensation.

The UNCHR complaint anchors its cause of action on Philippines being party to:
1) the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICPR) which prohibits torture, summary execution and disappearance as well as unlawful arrest and detention. Article 2(3)(a) provides that:
Every State Party to the present Covenant undertakes:

(a) To ensure that any person whose rights or freedoms as herein recognized are violated shall have an effective remedy, notwithstanding that the violation has been committed by persons acting in an official capacity; …

2) the Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, 39 U.N. GAOR, Supp. No. 51, at 197, U.N.Doc. A/39/51 (Dec. 10, 1984), which it acceded to on June 18, 1986. Section 14(1) of the Convention Against Torture provides that:

Each State Party shall ensure in its legal system that the victim of an act of torture obtains redress and has an enforceable right to fair and adequate compensation. Article 8 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Dec.10, 1948, U.N.G.A. Res. 217 (1948), states that “everyone has the right to an effective remedy by the competent national tribunals for acts violating the fundamental rights granted him by the constitution or by law.”

In its decision, the UNCHR has declared the Philippine government duty-bound to enforce the Hawaii Federal Court award. In addition, the Committee said the Philippines is obligated to compensate human rights victims for the “unreasonable” delay in paying a USD 2 billion judgment issued in Honolulu against the estate of the late dictator Ferdinand E. Marcos; this delay being in itself a Human Rights violation.

On the heels of the UNCHR decision and on 12 April 2005, the Philippine Supreme Court rendered a decision reversing the Makati Regional Trial Court’s dismissal solely on the basis of non-payment of the proper amount of filing fees:

“One more word. It bears noting that Section 48, Rule 39 acknowledges that the Final Judgment is not conclusive yet, but presumptive evidence of a right of the petitioners against the Marcos Estate. Moreover, the Marcos Estate is not precluded to present – evidence, if any, of want of jurisdiction, want of notice to the party, collusion, fraud, or clear mistake of law or fact. This ruling, decisive as it is on the question of filing fees and no other, does not render verdict on the enforceability of the Final Judgment before the courts under the jurisdiction of the Philippines, or for that matter any other issue which may legitimately be presented before the trial court. Such issues are to be litigated before the trial court, but within the confines of the matters for proof as laid down in Section 48, Rule 39. On the other hand, the speedy resolution of this claim by the trial court is encouraged, and contumacious delay of the decision on the merits will not be brooked by this Court.”

The Supreme Court reinstated the Makati case; hearings have been going on.

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