KASAMA Vol. 13 No. 3 / July-August-September 1999 / Solidarity Philippines Australia Network
Imelda Admits To Huge Marcos Fortune
New Definition of Mining: "It's All Mine!"
by Murray Horton
- part two -
Marcos Victims Still Haven't Received A Cent
And then, of course, there are the actual victims of the long years of the brutal Marcos dictatorship. Kapatiran has been following for years the slow moving saga of the thousands of human rights victims of the Marcos dictatorship who, having got nothing in their own country, took action in US courts. The logic of this is that it was to Hawaii that Ferdinand and Imelda flew their loot, way back in 1986 and took up residence - hence, US courts have jurisdiction.
In February 1994, a Honolulu jury awarded $US 1.2 billion exemplary damages to over 9,500 victims or their families who took a class action suit against the Marcos estate (the case was filed in Hawaii in 1986; it came to trial in 1992). They were separated into three categories - victims of torture; summary execution ("salvaging"); and disappearance. In January 1995, the same jury awarded those plaintiffs a further $US 766.4 million in compensatory damages. A separate case involved 21 "direct action" plaintiffs who were awarded $US 6.1 million.
Breathtaking awards are one thing - collecting it quite another. There have been appeals, delays and downright refusal to cooperate from each and/or all of the parties involved. The result, thus far - despite $US 540 million being moved from Switzerland to the Philippines - the human rights victims haven't seen a cent of it ($US 1 million secured from a Marcos crony in a separate Hawaiian case has all gone to lawyers' fees). There has been a ceaseless campaign to get the Government to facilitate a just settlement of the claim, citing not only the various US court judgements but also the Comprehensive Agreement on Respect for Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law (CARHRIHL), signed by President Estrada in August 1998 as part of ongoing peace talks between the Government and the National Democratic Front (NDF), the Communist-led movement that has waged an armed struggle for nearly 30 years. The Agreement commits the Government to facilitate the immediate settlement of the claim.
This $US 540 million (which, with interest, has grown to over $US 580 million) is the only identifiable Marcos money that the Philippines government could actually find in Swiss banks. Imelda's latest revelations tend to put all that into perspective (as does the claim by veteran private investigator, Reiner Jacobi, that he had located a Swiss account worth $US 13.2 billion in the name of Irene Araneta, the youngest Marcos daughter. The Government denies the existence of any such account). The money has not been physically moved to the Philippines - before that happens, the Government has to submit a report on how it will distribute the money to the human rights victims; and there must be a tripartite agreement between the Marcoses, the Government and the victims. Estrada seems unfazed by all this and announced that the Government might dip into the money, if it feels like it: "If we fall short of our projects in our agriculture, we will use it. The money is there, why shouldn't we use it? We will just borrow it anyway" (PDI, 24/12/98). SELDA announced that it would take court action in Switzerland to stop the money from falling into the hands of the Government, and to prevent it being used as collateral for Government loans.
The victims themselves are split, between SELDA and a rival group, Claimants 1081, headed by Etta Rosales. Much energy has been dissipated into attacking each other and American lawyer, Robert Swift, who is claiming 25% of any payout as his cut. "Vulture" is one of the more polite names he has been called in the barrage of SELDA and NDF press releases. The latest move is a "settlement" announced by Swift, the Marcoses and the Government, in February 1999. The victims would get $US 150 million, or less than 10% of the amount awarded. In his defence, Swift pointed out that: "Class Counsel have pursued the litigation with unrelenting vigor for almost 13 years, including four years of collection efforts. Collection of the Judgement or any significant part thereof, through judicial execution proceedings, is unlikely and would take years of continued litigation in various countries at substantial cost. Class Counsel believes that virtually all class members would welcome a distribution at this time which would make a difference in the quality of their lives" (Robert Swift, Lead Counsel; Letter to Class Members, 2/3/99).
There is a catch, of course: "In return for the payment, the Class and its members give up the right to continue executing on the Judgement, vacate the injunction and contempt citation and related fines, dissolve the judicial assignment and agree to release the Estate, the Marcos Family and the Republic of the Philippines from any civil claims for human rights abuses occurring between 1972 and 1986" (ibid). Not surprisingly, both SELDA and the NDF totally rejected this proposed deal.
"... The Estrada regime has violated Article 5 of Part III of the Comprehensive Agreement on Respect for Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law, concerning the indemnification of victims of human rights violations under the Marcos regime. The Government has ignored and violated this provision of the CARHRIHL by entering into a rotten 'settlement' agreement with the Marcoses and the American lawyer Robert Swift behind the backs of the human rights claimants.
"The agreement contains the following:
SELDA threatened to institute disbarment proceedings against Swift in the US, unless he withdrew from the proposed settlement, saying that he had deliberately misled the human rights victims on granting total immunity to the Marcoses. For his part, Swift accused the Marcoses of a breach of faith, namely failing to transfer the $US 150 million into the custody of the US court within the time span ordered by the agreement. The Marcoses are in no hurry to hand over any money to anyone.
The sickening reality of the Marcos years was vividly brought to life by reports that two of the Marcos children, Bongbong and Imee, said that they had no reason to apologise for anything that happened during the dictatorship.
The media reminded Imee, now the Representative for Ilocos Norte (the Marcoses' province), that a 1989 US court judgement had found her responsible for the killing of Archimedes Trajano, a student, and ordered her to pay the victim's family $US 5 million damages. In 1977, she had spoken to students at a Manila campus forum - Trajano had publicly criticised her and the dictatorship. Right there and then, he was seized by her goons and was never seen alive again. When his body was found a week later, it bore the signs of terrible torture - extensive bruising, a fractured skull, his eyes removed, and his intestines ripped out. That sort of murderous brutality happened to thousands of other Filipinos during the Marcos years. "They were riddled with bullets during encounters with military forces, water-cured, electrocuted and submarined (drowned) until their last breath. Some of them were buried alive, most women were sexually maligned before being killed. There were also some who just vanished into thin air. All of them have fallen into the night" (PDI, 30/11/98; "Marcos martyrs honored today").
The Unlamented General Ver
Some of the torturers and murderers are escaping justice by dying a peaceful death. The most notorious of these was General Fabian Ver, Marcos' cousin from Ilocos Norte, who rose to become his dreaded chief of secret police and Armed Forces of the Philippines Chief of Staff during the long years of martial law. General Ver was the most reliable iron fist of the Marcos regime. The mention of his name alone used to invoke terror. As chief implementor of martial law, Ver used the most brutal methods to exterminate any expression of resistance. He was responsible for the arrest and detention of more than 100,000 persons and the dislocation of five million families due to military operations.
He was the most loyal of all the Marcos henchmen: "It was not just any ordinary loyalty, the kind that exists between really close friends. It was a fanatical type of loyalty in the classic master-servant relationship, a throwback to the feudal history of the Ilocos. It was something akin to fierce Sicilian loyalty. Ver was the quintessential Marcos loyalist. He was ready to die for Marcos" (PDI, 27/11/98; "Ver's bond with Marcos fanatical"). Ver remained a butcher to the end. On live TV coverage of Marcos' last moments as President in 1986, Ver was seen urging him to order the bombing of rebellious soldiers holed up in Metro Manila's Camps Crame and Aguinaldo, surrounded and protected by hundreds of thousands of civilians (the People Power uprising that overthrew Marcos). The carnage would have been enormous. Thankfully the order was never carried out, and Ver and his family joined the Marcoses in fleeing to the US. He never returned to the Philippines alive.
Successive Presidents banned him and his family from returning, citing them as security risks. In August 1998, Estrada lifted the ban, but reminded Ver that he would have to stand trial upon his return. There were several serious charges against him, none more so than that of being an accomplice in the 1983 murder of Ninoy Aquino (it was highly likely that he would have been upgraded to principal offender if he had ever stood trial). There is strong evidence that Ver was behind Aquino's murder at Metro Manila's airport (which is now named after Aquino). American documents unearthed by Raymond Bonner whilst researching his definitive 1987 book, Waltzing with a Dictator, indicate that Marcos wanted Aquino dead; that he scoured the history of political assassinations for a model, being greatly impressed by the 1980 murder of Archbishop Romero in El Salvador. But, apparently, Marcos did not give the order to have Aquino killed in such a cack-handed way at the airport and flew into a rage when he learned of it. That one crime (out of so many) shocked the world and was the undoing of Marcos and Ver.
Ver died in exile, in Bangkok, in November 1998. He took the secret of Aquino's murder to his grave, along with all his other dirty secrets. Like the Marcoses, he never apologised or expressed any remorse about anything. Estrada allowed the dead henchman back into the country, along with his family, so that he could be buried in Ilocos Norte (where he and Marcos are still regarded as heroes - local boys made good). To add insult to injury, he was buried with military honours on National Heroes' Day (November 30). On that same day, Cory Aquino unveiled a new statue of Ninoy Aquino in Makati, and human rights groups honoured the victims of Marcos and Ver. "As the military pays its respects to one of the persons who played a key role in the plunder and oppression of the country during the Marcos dictatorship, friends and relatives of victims of human rights violations will honor the true martyrs of the land - those who offered their lives to fight for genuine freedom and democracy" (PDI, 30/11/98; "Marcos martyrs honored today").
KARAPATAN paid 'tribute' to the memory of Ver. Secretary General Marie Hiliao-Enriquez said: "death may have extinguished General Ver's legal liabilities, but it will never absolve him of the widespread and blatant atrocities committed during the Marcos dictatorship". On the insistence that Ver be buried with full military honours, said Enriquez, "following military tradition breeds more military monsters who believe they will be honored in death despite their abusive records; it creates a feeling of impunity". She condemned the Estrada regime for giving more attention to the burial of human rights violators like Marcos and Ver, than to justice for their victims. At least Ver was able to be actually buried. Marcos lies in Ilocos Norte, still unburied. Imelda wants a presidential burial, with all the trimmings - outraged public opinion has kept him above ground.
So, thirteen years after the Marcoses and their henchmen and cronies were overthrown by a popular uprising, they remain unrepentant, unpunished, and still untouched by the legal processes of either the Philippines or the US. Justice has not yet been done; it hasn't even begun.
About the Author:
Murray Horton is editor of KAPATIRAN and Secretary of the
Philippines Solidarity Network of Aotearoa (PSNA). He has
visited the Philippines several times, most recently
spending a month there in 1998.
This article originally appeared in KAPATIRAN 15 May 1999,
published by PSNA, PO Box 2450, Christchurch, Aotearoa (New Zealand)