COMMENTARY

Human rights: Decidedly social wrongs then, shamelessly political fodder now

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During the last 30 years or so, estimates differed on the actual number of victims of human rights violations during martial law, from a “low” of 10,000 then to a “high” of more than 75,000 now.

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Low or high the number may be, it still had served the political agenda of the administrations of Corazon “Cory” Aquino and Fidel Ramos and has proved handy for that of Cory’s son, the incumbent President Benigno Aquino 3rd.

Down there or up there the figures may also be, they were of negligible value to the administrations of Joseph Estrada, Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and again Arroyo.

The Aquino and Ramos administrations had no choice but to embrace the number of the supposed victims of military abuses from 1972 to until probably the early 1980s that they stumbled into after the strongman rule of Ferdinand Marcos was terminated by the so-called EDSA people power revolution in 1986.

The people, after all, were expecting them to account for Filipinos whom the Marcos regime and its generals supposedly silenced for good, caused to disappear or tortured beyond healing, and, therefore, any figure was as good as any.

The number could have been 20,000 or 30,000 for all the Filipinos care but, please, just send at least one of the star-ranked officials to prison.

Sadly, not one general or even just one sergeant or colonel landed in jail, apparently because the complainants hired average lawyers or had no legal counsels at all or the respondents got the best legal services possible and walked.

It could also have been that there was no case at all because witnesses to, say, alleged extra-judicial killing or documented torture, refused to come forward for fear for their lives–there is no crime if no one testifies about it in a court of law.

In the bar of public opinion, the Marcos regime and its generals were as guilty as Hannibal Lecter, if only they were villains in a movie who have to pay for their crimes but they were not appearing in a film and so there was no happy ending to any of the stories of the 10,000 or 20,000 or 30,000 as the case may be.

And so more than three decades later and counting, the human rights issue against Marcos festers.

To be fair to the supposed strongman, the number that Aquino and Ramos were dealing with should have gone beyond 10,000 because their respective administrations, according to so-called cause-oriented groups, had blood in their hands, too, from the very same killings, forced disappearances and torture that these same groups said had marked the Marcos years.

The accusation from these interest advocates apparently was the reason why the two former presidents stayed with 10,000.

Meanwhile, the Estrada administration and the two Arroyo administrations were already a little far removed from what the EDSA to-do was all about and saw little need to exploit the supposed revolution for partisan ends, including making a bigger deal of the violations of human rights under Marcos’ rule.

Besides, if Estrada cared for the victims, he hardly had time to give justice to their families, having been toppled by a similar revolt just over two years into his presidency.

It was also known that he did not have any differences with the Marcoses, personally or politically.

Arroyo has also not been known to have had brushes with the Marcoses, except perhaps the one where the pain from which may have already healed over the years–her father Diosdado, who was seeking reelection, was soundly beaten by then-senator Marcos for the presidency in the 1965 elections.

But she was very young and carefree at the time and most likely clueless about her father’s loss to the man who would rewrite the country’s history beginning September 21, 1972, when he imposed martial law.

Arroyo and the man she had booted out–Estrada–apparently did not want to be distracted from bigger problems of their respective unlamented administrations and wisely skirted the issue of human rights violations during military rule.

Why bother?

It was Marcos in the line of fire, not them, and the issue will just have to take its own course.

It did and right up the alley of the second Aquino administration, which has pegged at an unbelievable 75,730 to be exact the number of claimants to monetary compensation for rights abuses under the Marcos regime.

Apparently, the victims multiplied like crazy in more than five years of the second Aquino administration.

Their tribe will increase, with the House of Representatives prolonging by two more years the life of the Human Rights Violations (HRV) Claims Board, which was created to pay out P10 billion in financial remuneration to the victims of human right violations during martial law.

The P10 billion, or a fraction of it, is supposed to be sourced from sales of Imelda Marcos’ jewelry collections.

Come now, you really have to hand it to the nemeses of the Marcoses when it comes to covering all the bases.

To them, money is no object as long as there is the “stolen” wealth of Ferdinand and Imelda from which to draw oodles and oodles of cash.

Congressmen recently approved on third and final reading by a 127-7 vote House Bill (HB) 6412, which amended the Marcos compensation law.

The claims board has sole jurisdiction in determining whether a claimant is a 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 victims by the non-government Bantayog ng mga Bayani.

The board alone is also responsible for validating the amounts to be granted to all claimants relative to the severity of the supposed atrocities they had suffered and in accordance with a point system.

The Commission on Human Rights (CHR) has expressed its support for HB 6412, considering that the number of claims filed before the HRV Claims Board more than tripled at 75,730 compared with the expected 20,000 cases.

“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,” CHR Chairman Jose Gascon said.

Of the 75,730 claims, only 15,000 will have been processed by the claims board by the end of January, according to a report.

The number of claimants will probably balloon some more before the claims board reaches the 30,000 mark or before the victims start dying like flies.

Apparently, that’s the idea, in order for the second Aquino administration to be able to harp on the human rights issue under martial law until the Marcoses–particularly Sen. Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr.–“apologize” (the buzz word favored by Malacañang) for what the family patriarch had foisted on the people.

Before we know it and before the May 2016 elections, there could be 100,000 claimants and the HRV Claims Board will need more than two years to settle all claims.

By the time, Bongbong will have “reclaimed” Malacañang and woe unto those behind the resurrection of the rights issue against the Marcoses.

The subject should be raised absolutely–no question about it–but to do so with political motives in mind muddles an already politically charged issue that should be ended by “killing” the HRV Claims Board when its work is done.

Murder is not going to happen anytime soon and it will not be attempted by loyalists and cronies of the second Aquino administration for as long as Ferdinand Jr. harbors the not so unthinkable thought of fully “reclaiming” the Palace by the Pasig, perhaps by 2012.

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