Price Tag

by Juan L. Mercado

No, thank you. We chucked a second chance under a new law that enables human rights victims to claim reparation.

We cheer those lodging long overdue claims under Republic Act No. 10368, we wrote in a letter to the Human Rights Victims’ Claims Board, through its chair, retired general Lina C. Sarmiento. This is justice long denied.

For us, “it is enough that abuses inflicted by the Marcos dictatorship are documented for our grandchildren.”

President Aquino signed that bill into law on Feb. 25, 2013—the 27th anniversary of the People Power revolt that toppled the Marcos regime. Staffing the commission on to drafting the operating rules took another year.

The new agency started processing claims May 12. There is, however, a “sunset clause.” The commission has a narrow window of only two years to complete this task.

RA 10368 is an institutional assertion against the drum-beat insistence of Imelda and Ferdinand Marcos Jr., in a family chorus: “The ‘New Society’ was the most democratic phase the country ever experienced.” That has been their line since they tiptoed back from Hawaiian exile with the dictator’s embalmed remains.

Nonsense, journalist Raissa Robles said in a paper delivered earlier at the Third World Studies Center in the University of the Philippines Diliman. “For each day (Marcos) was in power as dictator, there were 23 new victims. Or almost every hour of the 14 years he remained a dictator, nearly one citizen was killed or tortured.”

“How much for a blow on the head?” a claimant asked Inquirer columnist Ceres Doyo, who was also a victim. “To put monetary value on the suffering of the Marcos victims is adding insult to injury.”

Is there a price tag for the terror that petrified the spouses and children of those arrested under Proclamation No. 1081? What is the peso-and-centavo formula for the now-aging families of the 759 desaparecidos or the “disappeared” under the abandoned New Society?

Among them is Redemptorist Fr. Rudy Romano of Cebu, snatched by martial law agents. His remains were never found. Instead, his marker fronts the Mother of Perpetual Help Church, rarely seen because of flower shrubs. Historian Alfred McCoy cites 3,257 extrajudicial killings, 35,000 torture victims, and 70,000 incarcerated during the Marcos years.

“The name Philippines Free Press is not for sale,” publisher Teodoro Locsin Sr. told those casing the magazine’s printing plant, closed down by a dictator’s fiat. What does it profit a man if he peddles what is most human to gain brittle temporary power?

We were among the 22 Manila-based journalists detained in the first wave of arrests uncorked by Proclamation 1081. Some, like the late publisher Joaquin “Chino” Roces and columnist Max Soliven were shoved into Fort Bonifacio. We were locked up in Camp Crame with then Daily Mirror, now Inquirer columnist Amando Doronila, Philippine News Service’s Manuel Almario, plus the late Luis Beltran of Evening News and Graphic’s Luis Mauricio.

That roundup included political leaders like the late senator Benigno Aquino Jr., Ramon Mitra Jr. plus independent constitutional convention delegates Teofisto Guingona Sr., Napoleon Rama and Jose Concepcion Jr.

The now-frayed “conditional release” order, from the 5th Military Intelligence Group, before us reads: All were “arrested and detained for subversion… You are not allowed to leave the confines of the Greater Manila area unless specifically authorized… You are prohibited from talking in any local or foreign press interview.

Violation of these provisions would subject you to immediate arrest and confinement.”

People Power 1 was to scrub all that 14 dark years later. As President Aquino said, in his 2014 Independence Day speech in Naga City, Ninoy remains the classic example of the human rights victim.

Reparation will be drawn from the P10 billion that the government has allotted from recovered Marcos ill-gotten wealth for the victims. This is apart from the $2 billion (P88 billion) assigned by the US Hawaii District Court, in 1995, for 7,526 recognized members who lodged a class suit. They got a second tranche payment.

We missed that first bus. With help from the late Executive Secretary Jacobo Clave and human rights advocate Joker Arroyo, we managed to get an exit permit to serve in the United Nations in Rome and Bangkok. Now, we’ll skip the second bus.

In between, the US Federal Court (9th Circuit) slapped a  $353,000 fine on Imelda and Ferdinand Jr. The court found they tried to secretly ship out paintings, from among court-contested holdings, for “a 25-percent, tax-free share.” Junior threatens to reenter Malacañang through the 2016 elections.

Is amnesia today’s response to Sen. Jose Diokno’s letter, written from prison in December 1972?

“I’ve been deprived of freedom, stripped of my dignity. A nonperson, I’m reduced to having to ask permission for such a simple pleasure, as to step outside my prison to feel the wind on my face and the warmth of the sun on my back.”

But “we can, even now, scrutinize our past; try to pinpoint what went wrong; determine what led to his madness,” he added. “And how, when it ends, we can make sure it need never happen again.”

Despite its long delayed start and modest reach, RA 10368 is an institutional cry: Nunca mas. “Never again.”

(E-mail: juanlmercado@gmail.com)

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