Friday, February 26, 1999

Settling with Marcos
human rights victims

THE long struggle to win compensation for thousands of victims of human rights abuses during the Ferdinand Marcos dictatorship in the Philippines has culminated with an agreement with Marcos' widow and children on a settlement of $150 million. The sum is a far cry from the $1.9 billion awarded the victims by a federal court jury in Honolulu in 1992, but there was never any realistic prospect of collecting that much. Even $150 million will provide substantial individual payments, estimated at $16,000.

Sherry Broder of Honolulu, one of the plaintiffs' attorneys in the precedent-setting case, was justifiably elated, commenting that the settlement is the culmination of efforts that began in 1986 when Marcos arrived in Honolulu on a U.S. Air Force plane following his overthrow.

Achieving payment in any amount was made difficult by the problem of locating and recovering the Marcos fortune, much of it in secret Swiss bank accounts and in investments outside the Philippines. A major complication was the fact that the Philippine government also claimed the Marcos wealth on the basis that it was stolen from the nation. About $550 million of the Marcos wealth deposited in Swiss banks has been transferred to an escrow account in a Manila bank on order of the Swiss Supreme Court. The court ruled that $100 million could be used to compensate human rights victims.

A spokesman for President Joseph Estrada said he had given preliminary approval to the settlement, which presumably would leave hundreds of millions more that the Philippines could recover. The settlement also must be approved by U.S. District Judge Manuel Real of Los Angeles, who heard the case here.

There was no doubt that the Marcos dictatorship had tortured and murdered thousands who resisted the regime's oppressive rule, but holding the Marcoses legally accountable after they escaped to Hawaii seemed improbable. Winning a judgment against them in another country set a precedent that could apply to many other dictators. As Robert Swift, the lead attorney in this case, said, "What we do here and now will resonate throughout the world. A despot who abuses his people will pay."


Terroristic aliens

ILLEGAL aliens who have brought attention to themselves through their support of terrorist organizations no longer can use First Amendment protection of free speech to block their deportation. The U.S. Supreme Court has advised eight Palestinians seeking to remain in the United States that they don't enjoy such constitutional protection. Thousands of others may be forced to join their exodus from American soil.

The Palestinian aliens were arrested in Los Angeles in 1987 and charged with being deportable because of their support for the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, a terrorist group that has claimed credit for several airline hijackings and car bombings in the Middle East. U.S. law makes it a crime to provide material support to designated foreign terrorist groups, including the Popular Front.

The plaintiffs in the case have been in the United States illegally because they failed to maintain student status, worked without authorization or overstayed a visit. However, they contended the Immigration and Naturalization Service was "selective" in its enforcement of immigration law because of their political activities. They also maintained, rather lamely, that the Popular Front's greater effort is aimed at operating hospitals, youth clubs, schools and day-care centers.

The dozen years that have passed since the eight aliens were arrested provides an indication of how First Amendment claims have been used to forestall efforts to deport aliens who otherwise would have no legal right to remain in the country. Congress three years ago stripped judges of the power to review such deportations, but the constitutional challenge remained in court.

"An alien unlawfully in this country has no constitutional right to assert selective enforcement as a defense against his deportation," Justice Antonin Scalia wrote in the court's 5-4 opinion. The high court ruling does not mean that INS will quickly move to deport the millions of aliens who are in this country illegally. Nor should it prompt the government to target illegal aliens who participate in political activities. The decision should be used only to seek deportation of aliens supporting foreign terrorist groups.


City land purchase

THE City Council's approval of the purchase of land at the back of Wailupe Valley for a nature preserve may be an overreaction to the threat of a lawsuit by the landowner. Council members supporting the purchase, which could cost up to $5 million, said they wanted to avoid litigation and create new park land.

Lorrie Stone, an attorney for the developer and landowner, said her clients have a valid argument for claiming that their property rights were taken by the city. She said the properties were zoned for residential use when purchased but were later reclassified.

But Jon Yoshimura, an attorney and one of two Council members to vote against the purchase, said the landowner has no case against the city for its denial of a request for permission to build a cemetery on the 94.7 acres.

Yoshimura and Councilman Duke Bainum called the purchase a bailout for the developer and landowner. There is also a wide discrepancy between the assessed value of $466,000 and the appraised value of $5 million.

Preservation of open space is usually a good idea. This purchase, however, is questionable.

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