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Tortured again

Publication Date : 17-07-2014

 

Like being tortured all over again. This must be how it feels for the tens of thousands of survivors required to relive the nightmare of their incarceration and abuse during Ferdinand Marcos’ dictatorship, to be able to qualify for a share of the compensation set aside for them.

The 10-billion-peso (US$230 million) compensation, wrested from the Marcos estate after years of legal wrangling in local and foreign courts, is to be distributed to 20,000 to 30,000 victims of human rights abuse under martial law.

The number is an estimate; no one knows at this point exactly how many Filipinos were harassed, raped, maimed, tortured and otherwise brutalised by Marcos’ forces. Many have died, or have retreated into traumatised silence, unwilling to recall the ordeal they had been through.

But now, if they wish to extract a measure of accountability and justice for the horrific hardships visited on them, they will have to revisit those terrifying days and nights. That is one of the requirements of the claims board that administers the 10-billion-peso fund. The survivors will have to put in writing their experience; they will have to recall specific dates, places, incidents—where they were picked up, where they were brought, who interrogated them, what their captors did to try to break their will, who else were in the cell with them, how they survived, etc.

That account, as painful a writing exercise to require of anyone, but especially of the martial law victims, will then have to be notarised—at the victim’s expense. The burden doesn’t end there. He or she has to get at least two witnesses to corroborate the account, and two more disinterested parties to attest to its veracity.

All these testimonials will also have to be notarised. Only then will the claims board accept the papers for evaluation and processing, and for the victim to be able to start hoping that, perhaps, justice is at hand after over three decades of waiting for their voices to be heard.

But there’s more. Republic Act No. 10368, the law that provides for reparation and recognition for martial law victims, specifies a deadline for the filing of claims, for which compensation began to be paid out last February. Claimants have only until Nov. 10 to file their applications; the board will then evaluate and verify the papers until the end of 2015.

How viable, let alone just, is that arrangement? Consider the case of Rowena, 44, whose story was recounted in this paper last Sunday. She was 14 when she and her siblings were picked up by soldiers, apparently because their parents had joined the New People’s Army. Rowena was gang-raped in prison and suffered other brutalities. Now jobless, widowed and living in poverty in Davao, Rowena was told that she needed documentation to prove her story when she approached a human rights organisation for help.

The voluminous paperwork required to prove incidents that happened a long time ago, and the short period she has to prepare/obtain all of the documents, makes it nearly impossible for Rowena and others like her to qualify for compensation.

Of the 30,000 or so victims of human rights abuse under martial law, only 4,000 have submitted their claims to the board. That is hardly surprising, given the torturous process one has to go through. It can even lead to absurd lengths: Fe Salino, secretary general of the political detainees’ group Selda in Southern Mindanao, is said to have tried to ask the head of the custodial unit of the camp where she was detained in 1971 to attest to her story. The man, of course, refused.

In crafting the law and implementing regulations for the compensation of human rights abuse victims, did no one raise the possibility that most of them would now be old and poor—and hence would need every assistance in documenting and notarizing their claims? Do they have to spend their meager funds to have at least four witnesses support their claims?

And, given the vast number of possible claimants and the existential importance of having their stories collected and memorialised for history, must the deadline be that tight—only four months from now, with most of the victims still to be heard from?

The government, of course, needs to make sure that unscrupulous individuals are prevented from making fraudulent claims and profiting from the fund. But perhaps there is a better, more humane way that would not inflict more suffering, however unintended, on the victims?

 

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