Philippine president Benigno Aquino signed a landmark law on Monday compensating victims of military dictator Ferdinand Marcos, 27 years after a bloodless revolution ended his reign.
The money, about $244m in total, will be distributed to potentially thousands of people whom Marcos’s security forces tortured, raped or detained, as well as relatives of those who were killed.
Speaking on Monday at a ceremony in Manila to mark the anniversary of the revolution, which was led by his mother, Aquino said the law was part of his government’s efforts to “right the wrongs of the past.”
“We may not bring back the time stolen from martial law victims, but we can assure them of the state’s recognition of their sufferings that will help bring them closer to the healing of their wounds,” Aquino said.
Loretta Ann Rosales, an anti-Marcos activist who was tortured by his security forces and now heads the country’s independent rights commission, said the law would finally allow all his victims to feel a sense of justice.
“The law is essential in rectifying the abuses of the Marcos dictatorship and obliges the state to give compensation to all those who suffered gross violations of their rights,” Rosales told AFP.
Marie Hilao-Enriquez, the chairwoman of Selda, a group which represents Marcos rights victims, also welcomed the symbolic intent behind the law but said the money was too little to have a significant impact.
“There are so many victims that when you divide it to everyone it will not result to much,” Hilao-Enriquez said.
Hilao-Enriquez’s group represents about 10,000 documented victims, but she said there were many more who had not been officially registered and may now come forward, such as Muslim communities in the remote south of the country.
Under the law, a compensation board will accept and evaluate applications for reparations over the next six months. Those victims will be from when Marcos declared martial law in 1972 to the end of his rule in 1986.
The compensation will come from about $600m the government has recovered from Swiss bank accounts that Marcos secretly maintained while he was in power.
The government has accused Marcos and his relatives of plundering up to $10b, and has so far recovered about $4b.
After millions of people took to the streets in a military-backed protest, Marcos, who was backed by the US, fled to Hawaii where he died in 1989. After returning from exile his relatives have made a remarkable political comeback, while always denying any wrongdoing by the family.
Marcos’s wife Imelda is now an 83-year-old congresswoman representing the family’s political stronghold in a northern province.
Marcos’s son and namesake, Ferdinand Marcos Junior, is a senator with public ambitions eventually to become president.
He posted a long statement on his official Facebook page in which he said he had “no problem” with compensating people for rights abuses committed between 1972 and 1986.
But Marcos said the issue of compensating the “tens of thousands” of human rights victims in the post-Marcos era had been ignored.
“That question is like an elephant in the room that some politicians, the typically glib, sanctimonious, and self-righteous, pretend not to see,” he wrote, while insisting he was focusing on ways to “unify our country.”