Government Signs $100 Million Settlement with Rights Victims
MANILA, Philippines (AP) _ The government has agreed to pay $100 million to victims of human rights abuses under Ferdinand Marcos after their lawyer agreed to drop their charges against the late dictator’s estate.
A group representing a large number of the 10,000 victims represented in the class action suit denounced the agreement today as an exoneration of Marcos and a betrayal of their cause.
Magtanggol Gunigundo, chairman of the Philippine Presidential Commission on Good Government, and American lawyer Robert Swift signed the agreement on Wednesday, said Filipino lawyer Rod Domingo, an associate of Swift’s in this case.
Swift represented 10,000 victims of torture, summary execution and disappearances in a class action suit in U.S. District Court in Hawaii, where Marcos fled after being ousted in 1986.
A jury in Hawaii found the Marcos estate liable for the abuses. In two separate decisions, the plaintiffs were awarded $1.9 billion in damages.
The agreement signed Wednesday would supersede these damage awards.
But there are still several factors that could block this agreement. It has to be approved by the district court, the Marcos familly and President Fidel Ramos of the Philippines, and there was no immediate comment from them on the settlement.
Moreover, part of the money is to come from accounts the Marcos family held in Switzerland, and the Swiss government has said it will not release the money until the Philippines government wins a criminal conviction against Marcos’ wife, Imelda.
The agreement followed a decision by the Swiss government last month to transfer the Marcos money to the Philippines and put it into an escrow account until a criminal conviction is won.
Under Wednesday’s agreement, the government would give the victims $50 million from the $475 million Marcos held in Swiss accounts and $50 million would come directly from the Marcos family.
The agreement would require the human rights victims to dismiss all charges against the Marcoses in the United States and other countries.
It does not specify how the money is to be divided among the victims.
Selda, a group of former political detainees whose members make up at least half of the 10,000 victims, immediately denounced the agreement.
It called the settlement a ``betrayal of the principles for which the 10,000 victims had suffered incarceration and torture and even offered their lives in the struggle against the forces of tyranny during the Marcos dictatorship.″
A Selda member who testified at the Hawaii trial, physics professor Guillermo Ponce de Leon, said Swift ``stepped out of bounds″ by signing such an agreement without consulting his clients.
``This is a stab in the back,″ he said. ``Who gave (Swift) the right to absolve the Marcoses of criminal liability? I do not agree to that. I do not accept such an agreement.″
Romeo Capulong, counsel for Selda, said the group was studying possible charges against Swift, whom he accused of being ``in a hurry to collect his attorney’s fees and his reimbursement.″
Capulong said Swift did not consult Selda, which initiated the class action suit in 1986.