Aquino govt should fulfill its duty to ML victims before 2013 elections – group

ALMOST a month before the election fever officially goes full blast, martial law victims demand from President Benigno ‘Noynoy’ Aquino to fulfil its obligation by enacting the Marcos Victims Compensation Bill.

“Before the Aquino government becomes too embroiled in the 2013 electoral circus and gore, we strongly urge that it must first enact a sound law to indemnify the Marcos victims,” declared Marie Hilao-Enriquez, chairperson of the Samahan ng mga Ex-Detainee Laban sa Detensyon at Aresto (Selda).

By ‘sound’ the group means means a law that reflects the sentiments of ML victims who remain steadfast in the struggle for justice, despite their age, illnesses and continuing poverty.

On January 9, a bicameral conference was held after the Senate passed its version of the bill on December 17, 2012. During the BiCam, Senator Joker Arroyo, a martial law victim himself and counsel to political prisoners during martial law, refused to budge on the Senate bill’s provision that a person can be considered a victim only under the ‘disputable presumption’ clause in section 4, pertaining to the martial law victims who won a landmark case against the estate of Ferdinand Marcos in a class action case in Hawaii in 1992.

For Selda, a conclusive presumption by virtue of the final judgement of the US Federal Court System in the Human Rights Litigation against the Estate of Ferdinand E. Marcos (Multi District Litigation 840) in the Federal Court in Hawaii and the Swiss Federal Supreme Court Decision of December 10, 1997, is the better consideration and view on this matter.

“The 9,539 individuals, including the 24 direct-action plaintiffs who filed the class suit in 1986 and won a favorable judgement in 1992 in Hawaii, already went through a rigorous screening, including a tortuous recollection of events and experiences they had during martial law. They should not undergo and endure the same painful process again,” Enriquez opined.

“They must be automatically considered as victims of human rights violations under the proposed Philippine law and should be the priority in the indemnification,” she said.

The group said that additional victims who did not participate in the class action suit in Hawaii may undergo a process to determine if they were victims of human rights violations under the proposed Victims Compensation Act.

Sen. Arroyo also blocked moves by other members of the BiCam to strike out a provision that narrows down the claimants only to those who ‘peacefully’ exercised their civil and political rights during martial law.

The group stressed that the International Humanitarian law prohibits summary execution of both civilian and combatants held as prisoners of war. Some of those arrested and detained during martial law took up arms to fight the dictatorship.

Arroyo wants to exclude those who resorted to armed resistance during martial law, implying that in doing so, they have given up their human rights.

Lastly, Senator Arroyo is not keen on including Selda among the organizations in the Human Rights Claim Board that will distribute reparation to victims of martial law because of ‘conflict of interest’.

“What conflict of interest is Sen. Arroyo talking about?” Enriquez inquired, “Selda, since day one, sought not just indemnification for the victims but also justice for them. He has no right to judge us, nor dismiss what we have achieved at this point. We now bear witness to the fruits of all our hard work in the past 26 years. We want to ensure that those who took the risk of filing the class suit against Marcos be given what is due them,” said Hilao-Enriquez.

“It is quite disappointing that among the many senators, it was Sen. Arroyo, a human rights lawyer of political prisoners and human rights violations victims of martial law, who raised these anti-victims proposals,” Enriquez said.

“We cannot help but view Arroyo’s defiant stonewalling on our proposals as red-baiting. It is unfair and biased against those who deserve justice. We hope that his years in the air-conditioned offices of the Senate have not blinded him like the Marcoses,” she said.

The group urged the Aquino government and other members of the bicameral conference to sustain the momentum the Marcos Victims Compensation Bill has reached at this point and make sure that the victims’ well-being are enshrined in the proposed law.

“We are making history with the enactment of the indemnification bill into law. The Aquino government should not squander this chance to redeem itself to the martial law victims, as Aquino promised in his first SONA and to the President of Switzerland,” Selda said.

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