Disorganized system enrages Martial Law claims victims

Aug. 06, 2014

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DAVAO CITY – Exhausted from the heat of the mid-day sun in Bankerohan Gym, 51-year old Leticia Lumakan, collapsed for the second time in two days.

Yet again, she refused to be brought out of the line for medical help.

“I don’t want to leave this line because I have to file my husband’s claim as a Martial Law victim.”

Leticia was in a line of nearly a thousand who have been there since Monday  to file their claims to the Human Rights Victims Claims Board (HRVCB) for being victims of the dictatorship of the late President Ferdinand Marcos.

But the victims, mostly elderly and many coming from as far as provinces of Compostela Valley, Sarangani and Cotabato, complained that the process set up by the claims board was “disorganized” and “inhumane”.

“I have been here since Monday morning, yet until now my name has not been called,” said one farmer in his 50s who came all the way from Matanao, del Sur.  Now he is one among hundreds waiting outside of the Bankerohan Gym on the last day of filing on Wednesday.

The victims had to stand in long queues under the sun before entering the gym to have their papers processed by paralegals and staff of the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) for validation and confirmation.

The HRVCB, which was formed last year to facilitate the compensation of some P10 billion of Marcos’ hidden wealth, began the 16-city “caravan” around the country to register Martial Law victims for the compensation.

The Davao City screening was set on August 4 to 6. Earlier they came from Cagayan de Oro City.

Many complained that the HRVCB did not set up things clearly, such as proper information or signs to guide them on the process.

They also complained that the board put a cut-off to accommodate 300 people in a day, which triggered a near stampede as claimants scrambled to push their names to a CHR staff while they waited again outside.

HRVCB officer-in-charge Attorney Arcadio Benitez said they had registered about 800 people as of Wednesday noon. But there are still hundreds more lining up for registration.

Tony Bejarin, a human rights worker in Cotabato in the 1980s, came all the way from Cebu City, only to endure the long lines.

“We have been given shabby treatment.  They should not be letting us wait here. It’s demeaning, it’s double murder,” he complained.

Marie Hilao Enriquez, national chair of the detatinees group SELDA, was present since Monday and asked Benitez to arrest the problems in the process.

“He told me it was the CHR personnel who were in charge of the system,” Enriquez said . “But I asked them why can’t you let the people stay inside the gym rather than make them endure the wait outside?”

Enriquez said she could not take their reason of security concerns if they let the people inside the gym.

“I told them if they think they are to create havoc, the gym railings and gates would have been smashed since the first day,” she said in exasperation. “Look, the people here just want to file their claims. Why are they making these things difficult?”

As SELDA chair, Enriquez has also been to the HRVCB Legaspi and Iloilo to face victims complain of this process and try to help out. “Everywhere it’s the same, they don’t have a system,” she pointed out.

She said the board should only do a ministerial role of screening the papers and not let the people undergo various levels of screening.

On Wednesday, the process was transferred to the much cramped and heated Bankerohan Gym as the Davao Recreation Center had to give way for the Kadayawan Festival activity.

It was only at noon time that the board finally opened the gates to allow all remaining applicants to wait inside the gym. But some had collapsed like Lumakan.

Some SELDA members from Davao have volunteered to help many outside and inside the gym who have problems with their documentation papers.

A SELDA member, Oscar Manila, said they gave suggestions to the board to speed and ease the process, especially with the influx of many people coming from other provinces.

“We advised them to set up separate tables for various provinces to make things easy. I don’t know why they haven’t done that,” he said.

Manila also said the board should have given priority to elderly and differently-abled people to file their applications right away.

Lawyer Marcos Risonar, one of three Davao lawyers jailed during  Martial Law,volunteered to help in the screening of papers in Bankerohan Gym.

“I have been here since Monday and even I have not been called,” Risonar complained. “I decided to help to get things going.”

HRCVB in-charge Benitez admitted they did not expect as many as thousands to come.

“We have to learn from this. We have to improve our system,” he said. “The Davao City schedule became a melting pot of applicants from other provinces like Cotabato.”

Benitez said they had to extend the filing for one more day on Thursday.

Water dispensers were placed at the gym, but plastic cups had run out as of 1 pm. Water bottles were distributed also during the process at Almendras Gym.

Bankerohan Barangay Captain Edgar Ibuyan Jr. provided free porridge.

Benitez said there would still be a second round for applicants either on September or October but it will be held in Tagum City.

Enriquez challenged the Board to get the process fixed.

“We shouldn’t be enduring this. If we haven’t fought the dictatorship, we shouldn’t have been here,”she said.

She also challenged members of the HRVCB to be present during the whole duration, pointing out that board chair Lina Sarmiento and member Chino Gascon were only present for the first two days and didn’t stay long.

Bejarin also said the process should show dignity to people who fought and suffered under the dictatorship.

“I’m here not just because of compensation. But I want to stake my name as having been part of this history,” said Bejarin.(davaotoday.com)

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