Case unclosed

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By Neil Honeyman

An Independent View

Monday, August 4, 2014


A WORLD-WIDE phenomenon, gaining momentum, is to revisit past events with a view to establishing the truth and, where appropriate, to provide some redress to those who have been wronged.

In the Philippines, Republic Act 10368 provides reparation and recognition of victims of human rights violations during the Marcos regime. The act stipulates the creation of the Human Rights Victims Claims Board. Members of the Board visited Bacolod City on 3 and 4 July to process claims from Negros Occidental. Board Chairman Lina Sarmiento is aware of less than 500 victims in Negros Occidental.

The clock is ticking.

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No claims applications will be entertained after November 10, 2014.

We wonder if there is any communications between the Human Rights Victims Claims Board and Robert Swift, an American attorney who, for years, has been representing a total of 9,539 alleged Marcos victims. Swift must have amassed much data which would be helpful to the Board in establishing the identity and veracity of claimants.

Many Filipinos suffered from human rights abuses but the whole nation suffered from the diversion of public funds to the favored few. The search for and retrieval of, items which rightfully belong to the nation continues. There is much artwork, paintings by Picasso, Monet etc., to which the Philippine government has a strong claim, which has yet to be retrieved.

One such example is Monet’s famous Waterlilies, an artwork which was sold by an assistant of Imelda Marcos for US$43 million. The purchaser, a private collector, Alan Howard, has subsequently given US$10 million to Robert Swift for subsequent disbursement to his clients. How much of this money has reached the Marcos victims? Swift has been unable to contact many of his clients. After nearly 30 years this is understandable.

Has Howard’s donation bought him legitimate provenance for the painting? Unless the Philippine government has agreed, I do not think so. Howard’s ownership of the painting could still be challenged.

***

Some speak of the Marcos legacy. What is it? Is it a valid concept? Does it still prevail? If so, and if it is demonstrably harmful, can we eradicate it?

The Marcos legacy, regrettably, is alive and well. Although we should not blame Marcos for all our flaws, there are aspects which have not been addressed sufficiently effectively in the post-Marcosian era.

In Negros, during Marcos’ time we had the deplorable case of the Negros Nine where good people were jailed on trumped-up murder charges. These includes Fr. Niall O’Brien from Ireland and Fr. Brian Gore from Australia.

This caused international opprobrium to be heaped on Marcos whose wife’s excesses had already become a global joke, although knowledgeable international observers who knew about the widespread abject poverty in the Philippines did not find it funny.

But the damage to the justice system has not been fully repaired. The truth does not always prevail. The system favors the perceived stronger party over the weaker. There is still so much corruption.

We see these negative aspects in the non-implementation of the Anti-Hazing Act, [Republic Act (RA) 8049]. It is clear and, to this layman, well-written. If it has any fault it is that there is no “wriggle room” for sophist lawyers to work their deceitful magic.

Every year we hear injuries from hazing and in many years there are fatalities. Yet no-one is in jail for violating R.A. 8049.The system has failed!

The case of Marvin Reglos is typical. He was murdered as a result of the “initiation rites” of the fraternity to which he wished to gain admission. Justice Secretary Leila de Lima expresses shock and horror and states categorically that the perpetrators will be held to account. Time goes by. The Justice Secretary has other important matters to deal with. Evidence, due either to incompetence or corruption, becomes muddied. Reglo’s parents, neither rich nor influential, find that their representations are falling on increasingly unreceptive ears. They attend endless and ineffective hearings until their money runs out. They do not obtain justice.

This year’s case where Mr. Servando is trying to obtain justice for his murdered son is in its early stages but the same principles apply. The defendants evaporate. Servando has to lobby hard for anything to be done and already we sense the possibility of a loss of momentum in the process whereby, according to R.A. 8049, the guilty ones will be sentenced to life imprisonment.

In a properly functioning justice system it would not be necessary for bereaved parents to work hard in a usually unavailing attempt to obtain justice. The state should take the responsibility. Instead we have a government which loves authority but does not perform well in accepting the associated responsibilities.

We should not blame Marcos for all our ills. After all it is almost 30 years since he ran away to Hawaii. But the arrogance displayed by the rich and/or influential over the lowly and downtrodden individual, at a peak during Marcos, is still with us.

We should recognize the enemy. The inappropriate ascendancy displayed by the few over the many is still with us. Marcos crippled our democracy and we have not yet properly regained it. We live in more peaceful and decent times but we have a long way to go before we have a society in which there is genuine equality in the corridors of power.

Marcosian attitudes have not yet been eradicated.

The fight for a genuinely egalitarian society continues.

Published in the Sun.Star Bacolod newspaper on August 04, 2014.

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