Marcos victims to collect $40M, highest total to date
More than $40 million in a brokerage account opened by the former Philippine dictator Ferdinand Marcos should be turned over to 9,539 Filipino human rights victims, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled.
The ruling comes as attorneys have been trying to collect a $2 billion judgment for nearly 12 years awarded by a federal jury here to the surviving victims or families of individuals who disappeared, were executed or were summarily tortured during Marcos' rule.
"This is the first major amount of money we've been awarded," said Sherry Broder, one of three attorneys representing the victims and their families.
To date, none of the victims or their families has seen a cent of that judgment. While smaller recoveries have been made, they remain in limbo until the U.S. District Court decides how it will be distributed.
U.S. District Judge Manuel Real from Los Angeles had ruled in July 2004 following a one-day trial here that the contents of the account opened shortly after Marcos declared martial law in the Philippines be immediately turned over to the victims. The account is named after Arelma, a Panamanian corporation that served as a front for Marcos.
Over the years, some of the plaintiffs have died, and surviving families, many of them in the Philippines, are still feeling the effects of having lost their loved ones, Broder said.
Mariano Pimentel, the victims' representative and a former Hawaii resident, now lives in New Jersey with his children. "He's very pleased," Broder said.
"We are delighted that our clients will finally be in a position to achieve a recovery to provide some real compensation for the grave abuses they have suffered," she said in a statement.
While $40 million is only a small percentage of the $2 billion judgment, "nevertheless, the symbolic significance of some tangible recovery is not to be disregarded, and if the recovery is distributed pro rata among the individuals, it will have monetary meaning for the poor among them," wrote Judge John Noonan in the eight-page opinion issued yesterday. Many of the claimants are poor and live in rural areas in the Philippines.
The District Court would still have to decide how to proceed with distribution of the assets, Broder said. At trial, the victims were awarded different amounts depending on whether they disappeared or how much torture they endured.
In the decision, the panel ruled that the Philippine Republic had no legal claim to the assets, and criticized it for not taking steps to compensate the human rights victims "who suffered outrage from the extralegal acts of a man who was the president of the republic."
Noonan noted that the class is "composed of victims of a rough and rapacious ruler who often exercised arbitrary power" and whose sufferings "naturally evoke sympathy."
"In good conscience, can we deny some small measure of relief to the class whose members have been found to have been grievously injured and who have the final judgment of a court assessing their wrongs and fixing their remedy?" he wrote in the opinion.
The Philippine government has maintained that the assets in the Arelma account were obtained by Marcos illegally and never belonged to him, but to the republic. Arelma and the Philippine National Bank, which holds the shares to Arelma, maintained that the District Court did not have jurisdiction over Arelma.
Attorneys for the Philippine government and the Philippine National Bank could not be reached for comment.
Victims' attorneys have collected $1 million for the Makiki Heights home where Marcos lived after arriving here in 1986 seeking exile after his regime was toppled, and also sold a bulletproof Mercedes at a public auction.
The Marcoses say they do not know the location of any of the money that Marcos allegedly stashed away, yet they continue to live "a very high and mighty lifestyle and must have access to money," Broder said.
Under court rules, the Philippine government and Philippine National Bank have the opportunity to petition the 9th Circuit for a rehearing to the U.S. Supreme Court, Broder said, "but I think it's highly unlikely they would be granted at this point."