U.S. lead counsel Robert Swift, right, listened to his Filipino co-counsel Rod Domingo during a press briefing Wednesday in suburban Pasig City, Philippines.
Marcos victims want payday unblocked
MANILA » Victims of human rights violations under late dictator Ferdinand Marcos urged the Philippine government yesterday to stop blocking a U.S. court order to compensate them.
"I think the Philippines should act out of compassion for the plight of the human rights victims who suffered over the years under the hands of the Marcos regime, and to acknowledge that it lost in the litigation," said American lawyer Robert Swift, who represents the victims.
The U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals has twice rejected appeals by the Philippines' Presidential Commission on Good Government -- tasked to recover Marcos' alleged ill-gotten wealth -- to stop the distribution of $36.4 million from one of Marcos' many foreign deposits and assets to thousands of Filipinos who won a class-action lawsuit against the late president's estate.
The commission, which claims the assets belong to the national treasury, plans to file a petition with U.S. Supreme Court to reverse the appeals court decision to block the initial payment of $2,000 to each of about 7,500 plaintiffs.
The plaintiffs were awarded $2 billion in 1995 by a Hawaii court that found Marcos liable for torture, summary executions and disappearances of political opponents during his 20-year rule that ended with a "people power" revolt in 1986. Marcos died in exile in Hawaii in 1989 without admitting any wrongdoing.
No compensation has been paid out. The award, including interest, is now worth about $4 billion, Swift said.
Alfredo Mercado, who was tortured and detained without charges for 15 months in 1976-77, said compensation is "just one part of justice." He appealed to President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo not to obstruct the compensation because "the money will go anyway into the national economy that at this time is facing a crisis."
"If the Philippine government should, by decree of the president, decide not to file a petition ... we can distribute the money and have it in the hand of the victims before Christmas," Swift said. Filipino lawyer Rod Domingo expressed confidence the U.S. Supreme Court will throw out the government's petition.
The number of Filipinos who won the class-action suit in Hawaii has been trimmed to 7,503 from 9,539 after spurious and multiple claims were excluded, the lawyers said.
About $35 million of the amount set for the initial payment will come from a New York brokerage account that Marcos opened with $2 million. The rest came from the settlement of a claim to Marcos' residence in Hawaii and the sale of an old Mercedes-Benz car, plus interest, the lawyers said.
Swift said they are also eyeing recovery of about 4,000 acres in real estate worth about $100 million in Texas and Colorado allegedly owned by Marcos and held by one of his cronies.
The government has recovered $683 million of Marcos' Swiss bank deposits. Arroyo has said she will support setting aside some of those accounts as victims' compensation.