July 24, 2014

 “In the early morning of May 6, 1983, we were awakened by the sounds of firearms being fired in our community.  We thought that it was a dream. But it was never a dream. Members of the dreaded Civilian Home Defense Force attacked our village. All of us were rounded up and forced to the front of our church. There, we witnessed and suffered different forms of physical abuse. In front of our church, we also witnessed the burning of our nearby village.

 When the sun was up, we went to check our nearby village and what we saw is beyond words to describe. Three bodies of our relatives and village mates were tattered with bullets and burned. Their faces were beyond recognition. The victims were a seven-month pregnant mother and her four-year old daughter, and a barangay official.

 Because of this, we were forced to leave our village for two months. When we went back to our village, our animals were gone. Our houses were ransacked. Our rice was burned. We had nothing to eat. Our families struggled to make both ends meet. These are our memories of Martial Law that even today, we tremble by the mere thought of it.

 I am here today to file my claims as a victim and survivor. I do not expect monetary compensation  in return but my action today is big step for me and my village in realizing that our collective effort against destructive logging is just and honorable.

 –          Statement of a Martial Law Survivor from Beew, Tubo, Abra

 Today, July 24, 2014, victims and survivors of the Martial Law period will file their human rights claims before the Human Rights Victims Claims Board at the Baguio Convention Center under the Republic Act 10368 or the Human Rights Victims and Recognition Act of 2013 which covers the period from September 21, 1972 to February 25, 1986.

According to Mr. Jude Baggo, Secretary General of the Cordillera Human Rights Alliance (CHRA), “The passage of this law is a temporary victory for all the victims and their families, survivors and communities who suffered during the Martial Law years of the Marcos dictatorship. This law only proves that during the dictatorship of Ferdinand Marcos, the State used its machineries especially the armed state security forces to perpetrate widespread and systematic human rights violations against innocent civilians and communities in the name of national security.”

“We welcome this law but its requirements are overwhelming.  Its requirements are tedious and entail documents that are practically not available.  In our region and especially during Martial Law years, our indigenous communities are not documented on paper. Life and its cycles  were based on rituals and traditions. There were no marriage contracts, birth and death certificates. Because also of State neglect, most communities during thad no clinics and hospitals, therefore there are no medical certificates for torture, physical injuries, rape. Furthermore, since it was Martial Law, the arrest and detention of innocent civilians in our villages were not documented. The law requires most of these papers befor filing any claim. Without possessing any of these documents, most victims cannot file their claims and narrow the chances of recognition and reparation. For those killed, disappeared, tortured, raped, massacred, arrested and detained, is this not too much for them to prove that they are victims by looking for documents that they do not possess?

Even the required two valid government-issued IDs are difficult to produce since most of the victims are poor and cannot afford to secure an ID, and live in far-flung communities. There are even victims who cannot file in person because they do not have money to pay for their transportation. Others cannot afford to pay an amount of P50 for a notary of their documents.  Instead of providing easier access to justice, the law is actually limiting and even closing doors to victims to attain justice, to think that the victims have to relive their entire experience of suffering during the dark martial law years. The law asks too much from the victims instead of offering a helping hand. This law further exposes theat the legal system we have which only caters to the rich and powerful.

We therefore call for an urgent review of RA 10368’s implementing rules and regulations.  Based on stories of victims from our communities, most of the violations are mostly collective in nature. Most individual cases such murder, torture, arrest and detention also happened in front of community residents.  We therefore propose that community testimonies should be honored as a piece of evidence to strengthen the claims of indigenous peoples as victims. Lastly, we call for the resignation of former PNP General Lina Castillo-Sarmiento as the Chairperson of the Claims Board to pave way for a more neutral and credible review of the claims. . #