Honor the Heroes and Martyrs of the Martial Law Period: Pass the Compensation Bill
The commemoration of the 40th anniversary of the declaration of martial law last 21 September 2012 at the Bantayog ng mga Bayani was short and simple. But it was nevertheless solemn and very symbolic.
In between the military ceremonies upon his arrival and on his departure, Pres. Benigno Aquino III laid a wreath at the Wall of Remembrance and delivered a speech about his recollections of repression under martial law. He castigated those who attempt to rewrite history and harbor dreams of restoring a dictatorial regime, and ordered concerned government agencies to undertake the documentation of events during martial law and the education of the youth on this.
It was after laying a wreath that, while a formation of soldiers fired volleys in the air, the President and the AFP Vice Chief of Staff saluted the Wall of Remembrance. Not a few from the audience commented afterwards that the gesture was hitherto unthinkable and ironic. Because on the Wall are inscribed the names of more than 200 martyrs and heroes, a representative group of many more victims of incarceration, torture, summary execution, forced disappearance and other abuses, who contributed to the struggle for democracy and in defeating the dictatorship. These are victims of agents of the State, of the same armed forces whose commander-in-chief and vice chief of staff saluted their names. Many among them took up arms or supported the overthrow of the government.
By that single act, the President drove home a very crucial point: that is, the entire nation, not only those who care to remember, must honor the heroes and martyrs who suffered and sacrificed under martial law. He made no distinction between senators and peasants, communists and capitalists, or whether they fought with the pen or with the rifle, or if they were killed or died a natural death. The important thing is that during the darkest hours when the nation needed their contribution, they most unselfishly offered their best. As the explanatory note of a proposed senate bill on compensating martial law victims asserts, the EDSA People Power Revolution would not have happened were it not for the perseverance and sacrifice of those who struggled during martial law. To them we owe the freedom we enjoy today.
The President’s speech was greeted with a loud applause. The only letdown was that he failed, or forgot, to mention even in passing the compensation bill.
The compensation bill
Pending before the Lower House is HB 5990 entitled “An Act Providing Compensation to Victims of Human Rights Violations During the Marcos Regime, Documentation of Said Violations, Appropriating Funds Therefor, and for Other Purposes”. (Click here for PDF copy) At the Senate is a similar bill entitled “An Act Providing for Reparation and Recognition of the Survivors and Relatives of Victims of Violations of Human Rights and Other Related Violations During the Regime of Former President Ferdinand Marcos, Documentation of Said Violations, Appropriating Funds Therefor and for Other Purposes” filed as SBN 3334 ( Click here for PDF copy). Both are commonly referred to as the compensation bill.
Both bills seek to adopt as State policy the recognition of “the heroism and sacrifices of all Filipinos who were victims of summary execution, torture, involuntary disappearance and other gross human rights violations committed during the Martial Law regime.” And further, of the State’s acknowledgement of “its moral and legal obligation to recognize and/or compensate said victims and/or their families for the deaths, injuries, sufferings, deprivations, and damages they suffered under the Marcos regime.”
There are sufficient and strong legal and constitutional bases on which the bills are premised. Article II, Section 11 of the Philippine Constitution declares that the State values the dignity of every human person and guarantees full respect for human rights. Pursuant to this, Article III, Section 12 prohibits the use of torture, force, violence, threat, intimidation, or any other means which vitiate the free will, and mandates the compensation and rehabilitation of victims of torture or similar practices, and their families. Generally accepted principles of international law become part of the law of the land by virtue of Article II, Section 2; thus, the Philippines is duty-bound to adhere to international human rights laws and documents, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) which imposes on each State party “the obligation to enact domestic legislation to take effect to the rights recognized therein and to ensure that any person whose rights or freedoms have been violated shall have an effective remedy even if the violation is committed by persons acting in an official capacity.”
In the past, the compensation bill was oftentimes mistaken to be similar, if not identical in nature to the Hawaii class suit. The class suit is a civil case for damages against Marcos and his estate for responsibility in the gross violations of human rights. Marcos was found guilty by the Hawaii District court and his Estate was ordered to pay compensatory and exemplary damages to the victims. Efforts to locate and recover Marcos assets that can lead to the satisfaction of the court’s judgment are ongoing. On the other hand, even as the State acknowledges its moral and legal obligation to compensate the victims, a law is required before money can be allocated for that purpose; more specially so if the funds will come from recovered Marcos ill-gotten wealth since current Philippine laws mandate that all recovered ill-gotten wealth should be set aside for the implementation of the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Law. This is why there is a need to enact into law the compensation bill.
Both bills pertain to human rights violations that were committed during the period from 21 September 1972 to 25 February 1986. Section 3.a. of the bills defines a long list of human rights violations that include search, arrest and/or detention without a valid warrant or on the basis of “Arrest, Search and Seizure Order,” “Presidential Detention Action,” “Presidential Commitment Order,” and similar issuances; infliction of physical injury, torture or killing; causing through force or intimidation the involuntary exile of a person; unjust takeover of a business or confiscation of property or deprivation of livelihood; causing or committing acts such as involuntary disappearance, “zonas,” hamletting, food blockades, kidnapping, sexual offenses; violations of the rights of freedom of the press, speech, assembly and of labor, etcetera.
According to the bills, human rights violation victims are those whose human rights were violated by “persons acting in an official capacity and/or agents of the State.” The latter are defined as “any member of the former Philippine Constabulary (PC), the former integrated National Police (INP), the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and the Civilian Home Defense Force (CHDF) from September 21,1972 to February 26,1986 as well as any civilian agentls attached thereto; and any member of a paramilitary group even if he is not organically part of the PC, INP, AFP or CHDF so long as it is shown that the group was organized, funded, supplied with equipment, facilities and/or resources, and/or indoctrinated, controlled/or supervised by any person in govenment/agent of the state as herein defined; any member of the civil service, including citizens who held elective or appointive public office at anytime from September 21, 1972 to February 26, 1986”. In addition, the bill states that “those persons referred to in Executive Order No.1, including Ferdinand Marcos, his spouse Imelda Marcos, their immediate relatives by consanguinity or affinity, as well as those persons, relatives, associates, and subordinates pursuant to said law, shall be deemed agents of the State under this Act.”
The House version of the bill allocates Php 10. 5 billion against the Senate’s Php 10 billion. This amount will be sourced from funds adjudged ill-gotten Marcos wealth that was transferred to the Philippine government by order of the Swiss Federal Supreme Court.
A Human Rights Victims Compensation Board (or Human Rights Claims Board) will be created to evaluate and approve claims of victims or victims’ heirs, if already dead. Claimants seeking compensation shall be required to execute detailed sworn statements accompanied by documentation of the human rights violations committed which will be submitted to the Board. Determination of award of compensation will be in accordance with a point system. With a range of from 1 to 10, victims who died will receive the highest number of points while those who were harassed will receive the lowest; the assignment of equivalent number of points will be generally based on the severity of the violation or suffering of the victim. The Board will compute the numerical value of a point by getting the total number of points awarded to all claimants and dividing the total amount of funds set aside for compensation; this amount will then be multiplied by the number of points awarded to a claimant to get the monetary value of that award.
Aside from processing claims and awarding monetary compensation to qualified claimants, the Board is mandated to prepare the Roll of Victims of Human Right Violations that will be filed in the National Library and other national and international agencies that are dedicated to the prevention of human rights abuses. Victims regardless of whether they choose to collect compensation or not, shall be given recognition by having their names enshrined in this Roll.
A memorial or shrine shall be erected in honor of the victims and a compendium of of the sacrifices of each victim shall be prepared. The Department of Education and the Commission on Higher Education are tasked to include the teaching of this portion of history in the curriculum of schools. A provision on non-monetary compensation, referring to the rendering of necessary services to the victims and/or their families by the Department of Health, Department of Social Welfare and Development, Department of Education, the Commission on Higher Education, and the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority, is contained in the House version of the bill.
History and status
While gross human rights violations were committed from 1972 onwards, the move to compensate victims through legislation began only in the 10th Congress more than 15 years ago when the Committee on Civil and Political Rights headed by the late Rep. Bonifacio Gillego introduced bills on human rights-related matters. Legislators failed to enact a law even if the requisite bills were filed during each of the succeeding four congresses.
The compensation bill almost became a law during the 13th Congress when it passed 3rd reading in both houses and was approved by the Bicameral Conference Committee and ratified by the Senate before adjournment. But the House leadership did not include its ratification in the order of business and refused to take it up during the last session day in spite of appeals from some congressmen who pleaded up to the final minutes and argued that virtually all that was needed was the banging of the gavel.
Human rights organizations view this continuing saga as indicative not only of the general public’s low level of awareness of and sensitivity to human rights issues but also the lack of interest by many legislators on advocacies of such nature on one hand and undue interest over the funds that can be allocated for compensation on the other.
In the 15th Congress, HB 5990 was already passed on third reading by the Lower House in March 2012. However, the counterpart bill in the Senate, SBN 2615 languished since its filing in 2010. In late November 2012, two new versions of the compensation bill were introduced: SBN 3330 and 3334. The Senate Committee on Justice and Human Rights headed by Sen Escudero and Committee on Finance headed by Sen. Osmena agreed to consolidate the three bills and submitted the committee report. On 3 December 2012, the consolidated bill was calendared for special order together with a sponsorship speech by Sen. Escudero.
Recently, Pres. Aquino allayed fears that the bills now pending in the 15th Congress will suffer the same fate. When interviewed last November during the 9th Asia Europe Meeting Summit in Vientiane, Laos, he said that we would talk with Sen. Escudero and promised the Swiss president that he would fast-track the passage of the bill.