Victims of the human rights violations (HRVs) committed during the rule of then-President Ferdinand Marcos are in danger of being deprived of their due compensation for their suffering.
This emerged as the House human rights committee via a 6-1 vote approved House Bill (HB) 6024 on Wednesday, or four days before Congress adjourns to give way to the campaign period for the 2016 elections.
HB extends the life of the HRV Claimants Board, which was created to process compensation for the victims of human rights violations.
With the committee approval, the measure can now be calendared for sponsorship and plenary debate.
But since Congress opened session last January 18, not enough lawmakers were attending plenary sessions to pass a bill into law.
The HRV Claims Board is in charged of providing P10 billion worth of financial remuneration for the victims of martial law abuses such as summary executions, enforced disappearances and torture.
It is the only Philippine law that penalizes the Marcoses for their martial law excesses.
“We support the extension of its [HRV Claims Board] legal life to be able to complete its task. The number of claims filed more than tripled that under the original bill [20,000]. If we do not extend its life, we won’t know what to do next. We can’t make the victims wait for too long,” Commission on Human Rights Chairman Jose Gascon told the House human rights panel, referring to 75,730 claims filed before the board.
Of that number, the board is only expected to finish the processing of 15,000 claims by the end of January.
It has the sole jurisdiction in determining whether a claimant is a human rights violations victim, unless he or she already enjoys the conclusive presumption extended by the law to plaintiffs in the class suit adjudicated by the US Federal District Court of Honolulu, Hawaii, against the Marcos estate and those acknowledged as human rights violation victims by the Bantayog ng mga Bayani, as well as validating the amounts to be granted to all claimants relative to the severity of the atrocities they have suffered and in accordance with a point system.
But the proposed extension is sowing fears among the victims of human rights violations because that could mean that they could even die before their claims are processed and are given due monetary compensation because of the extended waiting time.
“Ayaw po namin nitong two-year extension kasi nangangamatay na ang mga biktima. Ang tatanda na. Kulang pa ang ibibigay para sa pagpapagamot [We oppose the two-year extension because the victims are already dying. We’re already old. The money that we could get would not be even enough to cover the costs of our healthcare],” Marie Enriquez of Samahan ng Ex-Detainees laban sa Detensyon at Aresto (Selda) told lawmakers.
“This [measure]is to make Marcos accountable to us. Pera na nga lang, ayaw pa ibigay [Their accountability has been already reduced to a monetary penalty, and we can’t even get it],” Enriquez added.
Bayan Muna lawmakers Neri Colmenares and Carlos Zarate agreed.
“Why is it that the board easily recommended a two-year extension of its life before the Senate? Why not stick with the House version that extends them by one year? The Senate already approved the two-year extension so our backs are already against the wall here,” Colmenares, a torture victim during the martial law years, said.
“This liability has been pending for three decades since the Marcoses were ousted from power and the victims are yet to receive any compensation. Meanwhile, the Marcoses are well on their way back to power,” Zarate said.
Ferdinand Marcos Jr. is a senator, his mother is Ilocos Norte Rep. Imelda Marcos and his sister, Imee Marcos, is the Ilocos Norte governor.
HRV Claims Board Chairman Lina Sarmiento assured that the two-year extension of their mandate does not mean that they will have time to slack off.
Sarmiento said around 65,000 claims that reached the board are simply too tedious to process and decide on within a year since the board just have five lawyers and three paralegals at their disposal, on top of the fact that the filing of claims was extended by six months (which ended in May 2015).
“We have to make 1,080 decisions per week so we can finish it in 60 weeks. We have to edit 60 decisions per day. Our decision is subject to appeal within three weeks after initial release. That’s the reason why it is so difficult. It is really very tough,” she added.
“But we assure you that we are very willing to work hard. Most of us in the board are victims of human rights violations also. We will see to it that we will be able to distribute the compensation as soon as possible,” Sarmiento said.
Akbayan party-list Rep. Ibarra Gutierrez warned the board not to renege on such commitment.
“We have to help the board finish its task by extending its legal life. But this extension does prevent the board from completing its mandate earlier than two years,” Gutierrez said.