Wednesday, July 28, 1999

Marcos victims could go
unpaid for years

Bullet The issue: A court in the Philippines has blocked the compensation of victims of human-rights abuses by the Marcos dictatorship.

Bullet Our view: It's unlikely that a settlement acceptable to the Philippine court that blocked the compensation can be negotiated and approved by the U.S. court that handled the lawsuit.

A Philippine court has blocked the transfer of funds to thousands of victims of human-rights abuses during the Ferdinand Marcos dictatorship. The intent was to protect further efforts to recover millions of dollars stolen by the Marcoses, but the result will be to postpone indefinitely the victims' compensation.

The $150 million settlement of the class-action lawsuit against the Marcoses was approved last April by a federal district judge in Honolulu.

Now the anti-graft court in Manila has blocked the transfer of funds, on the ground that the settlement could relieve the Marcoses of further responsibility for the crimes -- a finding that appears to misinterpret the language of the settlement.

The decision amounts to second-guessing by a court in one country of a decision made by another court in another country. But only the U.S. court can approve a settlement of this suit, which was filed in the United States.

It's highly unlikely that another settlement, one that would be acceptable to the Philippine court, can be negotiated between the victims and the Marcoses and then approved by the court in Honolulu. There is a real danger that the settlement will be consigned to limbo and the human-rights victims will collect nothing.

The government of President Joseph Estrada and the Marcos family have agreed to set aside $150 million of $590 million in Marcos' Swiss bank accounts to compensate the plaintiffs. The Estrada government hopes to reach a separate agreement with the Marcos family on sharing the remainder of the $590 million.

It has been 13 years since the Marcos regime was overthrown and the dictator and his wife were flown to exile in Hawaii; he died here in 1989. Efforts to recover the wealth stolen by the Marcoses, estimated in billions of dollars, have been going on ever since the 1986 coup, with little success.

A breakthrough came when the Swiss banks agreed to turn over $590 million in Marcos accounts to an escrow account in Manila. But the latest ruling leaves the situation as confused and frustrating as ever.

A spokesman for President Estrada said the government will ask the Philippine court to reconsider its decision. Unless the court reverses itself, the dispute could go unresolved for years, while the victims wait.

Public television

Bullet The issue: Several public television stations have been exchanging donor lists with political parties and liberal interest groups.

Bullet Our view: The disclosure should encourage the gradual elimination of government funding for public TV.

THE cause of government funding for public television sustained a major setback with the disclosure that several public TV stations have been exchanging donor lists with the Democratic Party.

The report reignited a debate on Capitol Hill about whether the federal government should cut subsidies for public broadcasting.

Republican supporters of public broadcasting are now saying they aren't sure whether they can get an authorization bill through the House this year. And if there is a bill, it may include mandates for cuts in the federal share -- now 13.5 percent -- of public broadcasting's $2 billion in annual revenues.

The Boston Globe in May reported that Boston public TV station WGBH had swapped its donor list with the Democratic National Committee in exchange for DNC mailing lists. It turned out that the practice had been going on since 1993.

When the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB) investigated further, it found that television stations in major markets, including Washington, D.C., New York and San Francisco had also allowed their donor lists to be used by political parties -- mainly the Democrats -- and liberal interest groups such as Planned Parenthood and Handgun Control Inc. In fewer cases donor lists were turned over to Republican groups.

CPB President Robert Coonrod called the actions "patently stupid" and acknowledged that the damage to public broadcasting's credibility was severe.

Such partisan involvement raises serious questions about the appropriateness of continued government funding -- which has been controversial from the start of public broadcasting.

The controversy has been heightened by the growth of cable television, which has vastly increased programming choices available, including some comparable to those offered on public television.

Government funding has never fit well with the American tradition of press and broadcasting independence. Although probably necessary at first, such funding is increasingly difficult to justify.

PUBLIC stations, including Hawaii's, have been working to reduce their dependence on government funding through membership campaigns, philanthropic grants and solicitation of corporate contributions.

At a House Telecommunications Subcommittee hearing, Rep. Steve Largent, R-Okla., commented that "Big Bird (a character on the "Sesame Street" program for children) is nearly 30 years old, and it's time to leave the federal nest."

If the embarrassing disclosure of list-swapping with political parties and interest groups hastens the process of weaning public television from government subsidy, it will serve a useful purpose.

Published by Liberty Newspapers Limited Partnership

Rupert E. Phillips, CEO

John M. Flanagan, Editor & Publisher

David Shapiro, Managing Editor

Diane Yukihiro Chang, Senior Editor & Editorial Page Editor

Frank Bridgewater & Michael Rovner, Assistant Managing Editors

A.A. Smyser, Contributing Editor

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