Judge allots $35 million
to plaintiffs vs. Marcos
A federal judge has ordered that about $35 million from the assets of the late Filipino dictator Ferdinand Marcos be handed over immediately to thousands of human rights victims who won a class-action lawsuit nearly 10 years ago.
The award, which is likely to be appealed and is only a fraction of the $2 billion judgment from 1995, is a victory for the 9,539 plaintiffs who were tortured or whose family members were executed or disappeared at Marcos' direction.
With interest, the original $2 billion judgment is now $3.7 billion, but no victims have received any money.
Yesterday, visiting U.S. District Judge Manuel Real ordered that about $35 million in a Merrill Lynch account in the name of Arelma, a Panamanian corporation, should be turned over to the plaintiffs.
"It would be unjust to prevent the class of persons tortured, summarily executed and disappeared from receiving the proceeds of the Arelma account at Merrill Lynch to satisfy their judgment," Real said.
Real denied requests to stay the judgment and ordered that the money be immediately transferred into an account that had been established earlier for the human rights litigation.
Sherry Broder, one of three attorneys representing the victims, called the ruling a significant step in collecting the judgment.
"I think the delay in justice is very difficult for those in the Philippines and their families, and we hope to see distributions in the near future," she said.
Jay Ziegler, an attorney for Arelma, said they probably will appeal and declined further comment. The Philippine National Bank, which had also filed a claim on the money held in a Merrill Lynch securities account, has said it will appeal, Broder said.
While an appeal will effectively delay any distribution of money to the victims, Broder said Real's findings were strong, and the plaintiffs' team is confident that they will prevail on appeal.
"What we're trying to do is make these human rights cases meaningful, and the only way it will truly be meaningful is if the victims recover something," she said.
Yesterday's ruling came after Real presided over a one-day trial in U.S. District Court on Feb. 23. In his 13-page ruling, Real found that the account was opened with $2 million in September 1972 by Marcos, coinciding with his declaration of martial law in the Philippines.
Real found that the Marcoses had a "highly developed and sophisticated pattern and practice of concealing and secreting their assets by various methods, including aliases and corporations" and that Arelma served "no legitimate purpose other than to hide the assets of Ferdinand E. Marcos."
While others who have won judgments against the Marcoses also have filed a claim for the assets, including the Golden Buddha Corp. and the Estate of Roger Roxas, Real found that the judgments were against Imelda Marcos and that the human rights victims had superior claims.
Roxas, a Philippine treasure hunter, had claimed the dictator had stolen a golden Buddha, gold bars and bullion that he allegedly found in January 1971 in tunnels north of Manila. He was awarded a $19.3 million award against Imelda Marcos based on her interest in the Marcos estate.
The human rights victims also have a contempt award against Imelda Marcos and son Ferdinand Marcos Jr. of $100,000 a day since June 30, 1995.
Marcos served as president of the Philippines from 1965 until February 1986, when he was toppled by a "people power" revolt and fled to Hawaii. He died here in 1989.