MANILA, Philippines – Around 4,000 Martial Law victims are set to receive partial compensation from the state this year, based on an agreement reached at a Palace meeting on Thursday, January 19.
Officials of the Samahan ng Ex-Detainees Laban sa Detensyon at Aresto (SELDA) met with President Rodrigo Duterte, the Human Rights Victims Claims Board (HRVCB), and key Cabinet officials on Thursday to discuss ways to speed up the compensation of Martial Law victims.
SELDA vice chairman Boni Ilagan told Rappler on Friday, January 20, that many key decisions and agreements were reached during the meeting, among them, that a standard minimum amount of compensation should be given to the 4,000 human rights victims with approved applications for compensation.
This important "compromise" means the 4,000 would get part of their compensation this year, Ilagan said.
There are around 75,000 martial law victims in total, according to SELDA. But the HRVCB has only processed the applications of 30,000 of them, and only 4,000 have approved applications.
"SELDA is concerned that many of the victims are already dying. They cannot access the compensation, indemnification. We agreed that there is going to be an initial payment. After all, the law says the final payment will be given after all is processed," said Ilagan.
The exact amount has yet to be determined but it will be based on a complex point system that considers the extent of suffering of each martial law victim.
Duterte stayed in the meeting for only 15 minutes. After hearing some preliminary points, the President went straight to the point: "Paano ba natin mapapabilis ito (How can we speed up the process)?"
The President left Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea to preside over the rest of the meeting. Also present were Budget Secretary Benjamin Diokno and Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez III.
Ilagan, a Martial Law victim himself, said he felt relief and hope after attending the Palace meeting, held days after Duterte announced he would declare martial law if he "wants to."
"There is relief on our part. We were able to ventilate our issues. Second, this is going to facilitate, this is going to quicken the pace of processing. The bottomline is to give victims what they need," he said.
The meeting also discussed ways to boost the HRVCB's manpower. Its lack of personnel has been cited as the primary reason for the delay in processing applications.
Duterte himself said he might call on the Department of the Interior and Local Government to help the board. SELDA also offered volunteers from its chapters all over the country.
Ilagan credits Duterte for responding swiftly to SELDA's request to meet with him on the issue of delayed compensation. SELDA was surprised to receive a positive response to the request in just a week.
"We feel good, if only on that score. We really feel good. That encourages us to keep the lines open to the President, insofar as human rights victims of Martial Law is concerned," said Ilagan.
Ilagan also expressed appreciation to HRVCB for its "openness" and "warmth" during the meeting.
President Benigno Aquino III signed Republic Act No 10368 in 2013, which ordered the distribution of P10 billion to martial law victims, and the provision of services from agencies like the Department of Education, Department of Health, and the Department of Social Welfare and Development.
Martial law remarks, Bongbong
In their first meeting with the President, Ilagan could not forget Duterte's words after hearing about the long delay in giving compensation. He quoted the President as saying, "I don't understand why the claims board is not fast enough to implement a law that is designed to right a wrong."
Because Duterte appeared to recognize the mistakes of martial rule, Ilagan said he could not understand why the President continues to float the idea of martial law in his speeches.
"Honestly, I'm very much concerned. While people are saying these are just extemporaneous outbursts, he didn't mean what he was saying, still, it's cause for concern because it gives discomfort, especially to people like me who underwent suffering under martial law," said Ilagan.
He said he also could not understand Duterte's friendship with the Marcoses, the family behind the regime that had caused so much suffering for members of his group.
"The President says he wants change. We don't understand how there can be change in the manner he means if he brings with him the persona who is the embodiment of that dark chapter in our history. It is unacceptable that Marcos Jr shares in governance at this point," said Ilagan.
The SELDA official was referring to a possible government position for former senator Ferdinand "Bongbong" Marcos Jr.
These sticky issues were not brought up either by Duterte or SELDA during their Thursday meeting.
"I think there's going to be another opportunity to discuss that," said Ilagan. – Rappler.com
Pia Ranada covers the Office of the President and Bangsamoro regional issues for Rappler. While helping out with desk duties, she also watches the environment sector and the local government of Quezon City. For tips or story suggestions, you can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.