Right on the anniversary of People Power in 2013, the government approved Republic Act 10368, or the Human Rights Victims Reparation and Recognition Act of 2013. After decades of compromises and a cold-hearted approach to going after the Marcoses’ ill-gotten wealth, the law was an unprecedented step: The government finally admitted in its statute books its responsibility for the thousands of killings, disappearances, and human rights violations during the Marcos regime.
The law may not necessarily stem the tide of historical distortion of the Martial Law years, especially now that the dictator’s son is eyeing the presidency. The law is also far from a tool to hold the Marcoses accountable, as monetary compensation cannot equal the suffering and lives lost to Martial Law atrocities. But it was one step toward justice: It allowed victims of the regime to file claims which, if proven, would make them eligible for compensation sourced from the recovered loot of the Marcoses.
Tasked to implement reparations was the then newly formed Human Rights Victims’ Claims Board (HRVCB). The board would receive claims from Martial Law victims themselves or the kin of those who were martyred. It would then rule, based on the claimant’s submitted documents, on whether the claim should be granted or denied. "Points" were awarded to victims depending on the kind of rights violation they had experienced.
Such was the weight of the HRVCB’s responsibility, and yet it was initially given only two years to complete its work. Owing to the thousands of still unprocessed claims, Congress passed another law in 2016 to extend the board’s life until May 12, 2018. No further extension was granted.
Of the 75,749 claims received, only 11,103 were approved. But this does not mean that only 11,000 were the victims of Martial Law. A consensus among rights watchdogs places the number of killings during this period at around 3,000, illegal incarcerations at about 70,000 individuals, and torture cases at nearly 35,000.
The relatively few approved claims are already a tell-tale sign of flaws in the law. With a deadline already set before the board was even able to make sense of its task, its self-imposed technical requirements for claims only served to delay and deny justice and recognition for Martial Law victims.
Now that the board’s work has ended, the voluminous documents were transferred to the Human Rights Violations Victims’ Memorial Commission (HRVVMC). This year, the HRVVMC partnered with the National Service Training Program of the UP National College of Public Administration and Governance to help index and summarize those cases.
I am one of the 35 students currently involved in this project, as part of our Civic Welfare Training Service. Going through the 20 cases assigned to me has been an immersive experience, like I am an eyewitness to these rights violations. In one instance, I have “seen” how members of the Philippine Constabulary used the infamous torture method called “water cure”: The victim’s face was covered with cloth as water poured from above their nose to simulate the feeling of drowning. And every time the victim denied their alleged crime, an interrogating officer would whip them with a rifle and forcibly dunk their head in a toilet bowl.
Cases like this were not submitted just for the sake of a monetary claim. They are real and visual stories that families have long been keeping to themselves. They are accounts of how state forces brutally killed and, sometimes, raped persons in front of their own family, upon mere suspicion of their communist links or criminal activity. They are decades of traumas that victims have endured. They are narratives of the last time a family was complete; snippets of the moments before a loved one died in the name of Marcos’s project to “save the republic.”
Despite the gravity of these stories, all were rejected by the HRVCB, largely based on technicalities. A common defect of these cases was in the submission of documents—most were not notarized or signed properly. In one case, in fact, a missing signature resulted in the denial of a claim.
The claims process also relied heavily on hard evidence like death certificates, police blotters, and medical records. It would be out of sheer luck if a claimant could still retrieve these decades-old documents, as it was only in 2007 that record-keeping and archiving was standardized across the national bureaucracy. Owing to their age, some of the documents I have encountered were barely legible—the typewriter ink already faded, and some had been torn, only tacked together with clear tape.
It is also unfortunate that the board relied heavily on documents, when most of the atrocities done during Martial Law were undocumented. State forces deliberately removed paper trails in these cases to cover up their atrocities.
But it is not only the process that hindered the claimants. The letter of the law itself is geared to make claims difficult. For instance, for a beating to be considered a form of torture, the physical abuse must reach the threshold of “systematic beatings” or other forms of severity like rape or sexual abuse, mutilation of body parts, and mental torture. Simply, it is not enough that one was beaten during Martial Law. They should also prove that they were beaten badly enough to tick one of the enumerations in the law.
“The claim for Torture is not established by substantial evidence,” read part of one decision I have come across. “Mere general allegation that [they were] maltreated by soldiers does not satisfy the elements of severity.”
The government could aver that such technicalities exist to safeguard against fraudulent or dummy claimants. But, to paraphrase civil liberties advocate Justice Hugo Gutierrez Jr., legal technicalities must yield to the interest of justice. It is possible that many of those denied claims were indeed victims of the Marcos regime—it is only that they lacked a signature in their form, a death certificate was filed too late, or a beating was not yet so severe in the eyes of the law.
The state can still make amends, but it is quickly running out of time as Martial Law victims are not getting any younger.
Policymakers and Martial Law victims can discuss what went wrong in the old law. Congress could, then, create a new claims board that is not a court-like body, but rather one that will help victims process their claims and, at a minimum, offer legal services to assist victims in the entire claims process. Essentially, in reforming the claims board, accessibility of the entire process should be the government’s foremost consideration.
The board and the whole reparation process are integral to upholding an essential truth of the Martial Law era: that the bloodshed was state-sponsored. But the rejection of most Martial Law victims’ claims, if not the discontinuation of reparations, gives the impression that some narratives are less valid than others, and that the whole discourse of reparation merely revolves around money, not justice.
The law’s flawed attempt at closure only makes the political landscape ever more fertile for the Marcoses to redeem themselves, if only to cling to power. ●
Feb 10, 2024
Wala akong hangad na angkinin ang oras mo. Bakit ko naman gagawin iyon, kung sa mga kwento mo tungkol sa iyong pagkilos ay nakikita kitang masaya, nabubuhayan ng loob na magpatuloy at magpakahusay.
Feb 10, 2024
Bago maiahon ni Jimenez sa nais na katanyagan ang UP, esensyal na masigurong nakalapat muna ang kanyang pamumuno sa pagtugon sa kagyat na kahingian ng mga sektor ng pamantasan.