Revisiting martial law reparations five years later

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines) — A law was passed in 2013 acknowledging that there were human rights violations in the time of martial law.

Republic Act 10368, or the Human Rights Reparation and Recognition Act of 2013, was submitted by then Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile and House Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr., and was signed into law by former President Benigno "Noynoy" Aquino III.

The law called for the creation of a Human Rights Victims' Claims Board (HRVCB) to process the claims of people who have suffered human rights violations between September 21, 1972 to February 25, 1986. Victims will receive monetary and non-monetary assistance for the state-sanctioned abuse that they suffered.

Funds for the reparations were taken from ill-gotten wealth of former President Ferdinand Marcos and his family, which was transferred to the government of the Philippines, following a Supreme Court ruling in July 15, 2003.

To avail of reparations, martial law victims must present their case to the HRVCB, as well as documents supporting their claim. Monetary reparations are based on what they went through, using a 10-point system: 10 points for death, six to nine points for torture and/or sexual abuse, three to five points for illegal detention, and one to three points for cases of confiscation of property, kidnapping, and other cases. 

It's been five years since the law was passed, four years since the claims board opened. The board wrapped up its operations in May, after processing more than 75,000 claims and giving monetary compensation for more than 11,000 claimants.

While the processing of claims is over, the House of Representatives in August voted to extend the period of distribution of funds. Ilocos Norte 2nd District Representative Imelda Marcos, wife of the late strongman, stepped out of the hall during that plenary session.

Claims granted

Acting as a quasi-judicial body, the claims board requires that claimants present sufficient evidence to back up their case. For claimants who have kept their documents such as release papers, death certificates, medical certificates and affidavits, the process is simple. Organizations, including the Task Force Detainee of the Philippines (TFDP), Families of Victims of Involuntary Disappearances (FIND), Bantayog ng mga Bayani and Claimants 1081 have also helped verify claims.

Gilbert Pimentel, a labor leader from the Cordilleras, benefitted from having documents that the board could cross-reference. Having been detained for four years without being charged for any crime, he had kept his release papers and had written on his affidavit all the names that he could remember from his detention. Luckily for him, other claimants did the same and his name appeared in some of their claims.

"Yung ibang claims na-establish [Other claims were established] through cross-referencing. Nakakapag-cross check sila [They were able to cross check]. If your name appears in several claims, you have a better chance of getting your claim," Pimentel said.

In his case, he said that he had no problems with getting his claims. Now living in Manila, it was easy for him to go to the HRVCB office and submit his documents. He refused to reveal how much he had gotten, but admitted to having received his claims in two tranches: one in March and the other in May of 2018.

Pimentel said that he wasn't tortured, and perhaps this is true compared to what others have suffered. He wasn't beaten. He wasn't forcefully interrogated. But he was kept with five other prisoners for months in Camp Olivas, Pampanga in a dingy cell with barely a foot's space in between the three bunkbeds and the wall. "We didn't even have the freedom to shit," Pimentel recalled with a wry smile.

The board also takes rape seriously.

Mila Sibayan and her husband were arrested by the military on their way to Sagada and were accused of being communist supporters. Sibayan was petitioning for the closure of a logging firm in her home province of Abra because it was destroying the environment. She knew it was going to be an uphill battle, because the firm was owned by the Disini family, a relative of the Marcoses.

She and her husband were detained in Camp Dangwa, Benguet, along with her young children. It was common for rape to be used as a form of torture for female inmates. She said that women were often brought to the "opisina" during interrogations and that rape was both a threat and a possibility.

"Sabi ko noon mamatay ako o mabuhay, wala na akong pakealam nung gabing iyon," she recalled, when she was told that she was going to be raped by an official.

[Translation: I said whether I die or live, I didn't care anymore that night.]

That was enough for the claims board to recognize her case as sexual abuse, and along with the torture she received gave her a claim of nine points. "Sinakal ako... sinilid kami sa drum tapos pina-ikot-ikot," she said. [I was choked. We were put inside a drum and it was rolled over and over again.]


Claims denied

Not all claims are granted.

Pimentel, whose wife was shot while he was imprisoned, wasn't able to get a claim for her. He said that there were no documents to support that his wife was killed in a state-sponsored manner, and in those cases the claims board would consider the killing as a part of legitimate military operation.

There were also cases in which the claims were submitted too close to the deadline of filing, that by the time the board came back to them, there wasn't enough time to submit the additional requirements needed.

There were cases of human rights violations victims who did not know that the board existed when it did.

There were those who were physically incapacitated, either by old age or from some ailment like stroke, and couldn't personally go to the claims board or a board representative.

There were those who couldn't file claims because they could neither read nor write.

And then there are scams. Just last week, the Commission on Human Rights Region 11 office issued a statement warning people against people who claimed to be member of the claims board, and reiterated that the period of filing for claims is over.

"Doon sa mga denied ang concern nila ay makaka-apila pa ba sila, makakakuha pa ba sila ng hustisya," said Zenaida Mique, executive director of Claimants 1081.

[Translation: Those who were denied are concerned if they could still appeal and achieve justice.]

Four thousand members of Claimants 1081 had filed the class suit in Hawaii against the Marcoses.

"May mga torture victims na hindi nakapag submit ng maayos na dokumento o ebidensya, o hindi na-detalye yung nangyari sa kanila. Instead of nine points, naging one point," Mique said on what happened to some claimants.

]Translation: There are torture victims that were not able to properly submit documents or evidence, or provide details on what happened to them. Instead of nine points, it became one point.]

"Kapag na-torture ka, di din naman nakakapag-pagamot ang ordinaryong masa [When tortured, the ordinary masses cannot afford to be treated]," Mique said.  

Time has also made it difficult for claimants to look for their files, she said. "But mahirap din na hindi maging strikto ang claims board. Ang pinagbabatayan nila ay yung batas [It's difficult also if the claims board would not be strict. They are basing on the law]," she added.

Lina Sarmiento, chair of the HRVCB, explained that they had to be strict in processing claims based on what is defined in the law. For witness accounts, they have to have personal knowledge of the event.

"For a killing to be approved, the law says the killing must be done while the victim was exercising their civil and political rights. For torture to be considered, the elements of torture under the anti-torture law should be present," Sarmiento said.

Still, she believed that the board did the best that they could with the resources that they were provided with to ensure that all claims that were submitted to them were processed.

Reparations and recognition

Critics of the law and supporters of former President Marcos may say that now that these victims have gotten their compensation based on the law, they should have nothing left to complain about.

But, for the victims of human rights violations at the time of martial law, money is not the important part in reparations. Money just happens to be the easiest thing they could demand. And even then it's not enough.

"With reparations comes memorialization. It's really a matter of justice and not so much the monetary amount," Pimentel said. He added that because of the claims board, there are now legal, government-approved documents that recognize that there are people like him who had suffered human rights violations during martial law.

And for Sibayan, there are just some things that money can't make up for.

"Kahit papaano, hindi ito yung full justice. Kaya ba ng reparations palitan ang buhay na nawala [No matter what, this is not the full justice. Can reparations replace a lost life?]" she said.

Sarmiento said that its not up to the now-defunct claims board to start claims processing again. Another law must be passed to recreate the HRVCB, and another set of board members must be appointed.

"For the board to be reconstituted, Congress must appoint," the former head of the HRVCB said. "Karamihan ng mga members ng claims board ngayon, may ibang trabaho na [Most of the claims board members now have other work]," she added.

For now, the period of filing claims is over.

"Patay na ang board. Kung merong tao na umiikot at nagsasabi na bubuksan ang board, hindi yun totoo," Sarmiento said. "Hindi na madadagdagan yung mga na-approve ng board."

[Translation: The board is gone. If there's someone saying that it will be reopened, that's not true. No more claims could be approved anymore.]

CNN Philippines' Chad de Guzman contributed to this report.