STAR-BULLETIN / 1987
Ferdinand and Imelda Marcos talk to reporters about their lives in exile at their Makiki Heights home. CLICK FOR LARGE
U.N.: Pay Marcos' victims
A committee orders the Philippines to end a 21-year-old lawsuit
A United Nations committee has said the Philippines is obligated to compensate human rights victims for the "unreasonable" delay in paying a $2 billion judgment issued in Honolulu against the estate of the late dictator Ferdinand E. Marcos.
On April 3 the Human Rights Committee also said the Philippines should provide "compensation and a prompt resolution of their case on the enforcement of the U.S. judgment" and "ensure that similar violations do not occur in the future."
In February 1995 a jury in the U.S. District Court of Hawaii awarded nearly $2 billion to the 9,539 victims or their heirs who were tortured, summarily executed or disappeared during Marcos' 20-year rule. That amount, with interest, is now closer to $4 billion, and not a penny has been paid.
"We're just ecstatic about the opinion," said Honolulu attorney Sherry Broder, one of five attorneys who have represented the human rights victims in ongoing litigation with the Marcoses and his estate for the past 21 years.
"This is another step toward collection, and it is a significant victory because justice delayed is justice denied," Broder said. "They were abused by Marcos and now by the Philippine court system. Affirmative action by the republic is required."
She said the decision is a "black mark" on the reputation of the Philippine courts.
The U.N. committee ordered Philippine officials to report back within 90 days of the decision to show how they have complied with it.
The victims filed suit against the Marcos estate in the Philippine courts nearly a decade ago in May 1997 to collect from Marcos assets in the Philippines. The Regional Trial Court in Makati dismissed the complaint, saying the victims had to pay a filing fee of $8.4 million, based on the $2 billion in dispute.
The Philippine Supreme Court took eight years before issuing its final decision, overturning the Makati court and finding that the filing fee should have only been $7.20.
The Human Rights Committee noted that the length of time the Philippine courts took to resolve such a matter of "minor complexity" was unreasonable and violated the victims' rights under the International Covenant of Civil and Political Rights.
Robert Swift, lead counsel for the plaintiffs, said the republic has filed "frivolous court filings" in the United States to obstruct the victims' efforts to collect the award, including the court-ordered distribution of $35 million in Marcos assets.
The assets were recovered from a Merrill Lynch account in the name of Arelma, a Panamanian corporation, which was found by a federal judge to have served "no legitimate purpose than to hide the assets of Ferdinand E. Marcos."
That distribution -- which equates to a first payment of $2,000 to the victims and their heirs -- has been delayed because the republic appealed the order to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which unanimously affirmed the lower court's decision.
When the 9th Circuit refused to review the case en banc, the republic asked the U.S. Supreme Court to take the case. If the Supreme Court refuses the case, the victims could begin receiving their first payments by July, Swift said.