POSTSCRIPT / February 26, 2013 / Tuesday


Philippine STAR Columnist

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HR violations law: Milestone/millstone

SABAH STANDOFF: Two things must be underscored in the case of some 200 Tausugs from Sulu, some of them women, given an ultimatum and surrounded by Malaysian police in a village in Lahad Datu town in Sabah:

• They are Filipinos. They are entitled to the full protection of the Philippine government. Their welfare is more important than Malacañang’s love affair with Kuala Lumpur.

• They have vowed to stay there because Sabah is theirs. Formerly North Borneo, Sabah was just leased by the Sulu sultan to a British trading firm, which turned it over to Great Britain which in turn turned it over to Malaysia in 1963 to form part of its federation. Their unilateral takeover did not erase the historical and legal fact of ownership by the sultanate.

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MAKING AMENDS: The idea of making timely amends to victims of injustice is laudable. Such is the spirit animating the Human Rights Victims Reparation and Recognition Act signed yesterday by President Noynoy Aquino.

But while the law is a milestone, it could also be a millstone around the neck of whoever is tasked to carry it out. There are just too many victims of human rights violations in this country who have suffered in varying degrees — and limited means of compensating them.

With just P10 billion as ready reparation for thousands of actual victims and potential claimants, let us hope we are not biting too much of the problem.

(We are still watching for the text of the law to be published in the Official Gazette regularly updated by the Office of the President.)

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COMPARTMENTALIZED: “Nilagdaan natin (ang batas na ito) bilang pagkilala sa pagdurusang dinaanan ng napakarami sa batas militar,” the President said yesterday at the 27th anniversary rites of the EDSA-1 “People Power” Revolt that ended the Marcosian regime in 1986.

Who is drawing up the final list of more than 10,000 victims worthy of compensation? They will be paid from the P10 billion taken from illicit wealth recovered from the family of the late dictator.

Why are we recognizing only victims of human rights violations during the Marcos regime? Before that time, to this day, there have been continuing violations of human rights. Is the suffering of Marscos victims more excruciating than that experienced before or after?

Compartmentalized justice may be better than no justice at all. However, stop-gap selective reparation should not unfairly leave out other deserving victims.

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DOUBLE PAYMENT?: For every victim chosen for compensation, there should be an abuser identified, prosecuted and punished.

If the perpetrator(s) of SPECIFIC abuses are not identified, there could be imbalance and possible doubt that the alleged crimes were committed. We cannot act on the basis of generalized accusations and vague narrations.

Some of the victims to be paid are the same individuals awarded compensation under a decision rendered by a US judge in a district court in Hawaii. Are there provisions for avoiding double payment?

Was the Philippine law passed partly to implement that US court’s decision? It looks awkward having the sovereign Philippine government acting to comply or to give material meaning to a US court ruling.

Note, by the way, that in the Hawaii case, the lawyers bit off a large chunk of the compensation, leaving a measly sum for the victims. This time, the government should assign pro-bono lawyers to assist the victims.

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POINT SYSTEM: Will the compensation under the new law be in addition to whatever the victims may have collected or intend to collect under other laws that also provide for compensation for physical and other damage?

A difficult task is weeding out the fake claimants from the genuine victims. What are the clear criteria to qualify one to be considered a victim of human rights violations?

Is there already a schedule of compensation for specific physical harm? How will a victim who was raped, for instance, be paid compared to the compensation of one whose sex organ was mutilated?

Which will fetch a bigger payment: one who lost a hand or one who lost his mind? How will they measure the degree of damage wrought by different methods of mental torture?

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MARCOS & CRONIES: Will affidavits be sufficient to support a claim? How can medical certificates be secured when the physical harm was inflicted decades ago?

Is compensation allotted to individuals or to households? If several members of a family all claim to be victims, what happens? What about those who were late or did not know how to file a claim?

Are businessmen who were dispossessed during the Marcos years but have had their assets restored or were given preferential treatment by the post-EDSA Aquino administration qualified for compensation? If just recognition, in what form?

Meanwhile, how will the Marcos family and the cronies who are comfortably surviving the backlash of the EDSA Revolt taking all this?

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WAIVER: Explaining the context of the law, Presidential Communications Operations Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr. said: “The signing of Act demonstrates government’s determination to render justice for martial law oppression victims.”

“This is part of building institutional memory on our people’s desire to strengthen democratic structures and processes,” he added.

Himself a victim of the martial law abuses who has no interest in getting monetary compensation under the new law, Coloma said: “I know there are many like myself, a martial law detainee, who have waived their claims.”

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of February 26, 2013)

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