MANILA — Philippine President Benigno Aquino signed into law Monday legislation that would recognize and compensate victims of human rights abuses during martial law under former President Ferdinand Marcos.
Lawmakers spent 14 years trying to pass various forms of a proposal that would make the government recognize human rights victims of injustices under the dictatorship of Ferdinand Marcos in the 1970’s and 1980’s.
Congressman Walden Bello says it passed this year because many legislators realized the victims were aging, if not dying, and had grown sickly.
“It’s great that we were finally able to muster the forces to get it through both Houses of Congress," Bello said. "Also, I think it’s very significant because the Philippines is one of the few if not the only government that has in fact designated reparations payments for human rights violations that have been admitted by its agencies.”
The new law sets aside $250 million to compensate victims or families of victims, determined by an independent panel, to have been murdered, tortured or suffered other injustices at the hands of law enforcement and the military of the Marcos administration.
The Marcos family continues to deny any human rights violations took place under Ferdinand Marcos’s rule.
Marie Hilao-Enriquez is chairperson of SELDA, a victims’ advocacy group that lobbied hard for the law. She was an activist during the martial law years and was thrown in jail where she gave birth to her first child. She escaped, but her sister was later detained and killed.
Hilao-Enriquez says the group is happy to finally be recognized by the government. But she says the fight is not over.
“This is a small portion of justice," she said, "the reparations and recognition because to us complete justice means the perpetrators should acknowledge the sins they have committed. They should issue an apology. They should be prosecuted for their sins.”
Money for the fund comes from part of the Marcos estate which allegedly came from ill-gotten wealth that was frozen by the Swiss government and returned to Philippine authorities.
President Aquino signed the Human Rights Victims Recognition and Reparation Act into law on the 27th anniversary of the bloodless revolution that catapulted his mother to the presidency and restored democracy. Aquino’s father, a vocal opponent of Marcos, was killed by unknown assassins during those years.