Malacañang stressed on Wednesday that the Philippine government should have final say on the distribution of funds to some 9,000 victims of human rights abuses during martial law under the late President Ferdinand Marcos.
In a press briefing on Wednesday, Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo insisted that any payout will have to be approved by the Philippine government.
Lawyers of the martial law victims announced on Tuesday that the U.S. Federal Court in New York had ordered the distribution of $13.75 million or around ₱715 million to the victims. In a statement, they said the U.S. Court had directed the transfer of settlements amounting to $1,500 or around ₱78,000 to each of the victims, collectively known as Claimants 1081, in a class action lawsuit against the Marcos family they filed in Hawaii in 1995.
“It's the Philippine government that should decide. Do they (U.S. lawyers) have jurisdiction over us?” Panelo demanded.
Judge Katherine Polk Failla signed the order on the release of compensation which was earlier blocked by the Office of the Solicitor General (OSG).
“The Republic's OSG sought to kill the settlement and prevent a distribution to human rights victims. However, Judge Failla found that the Republic's New York attorney had actual and apparent authority to bind the Republic to the settlement,” the victims' counsel said.
The OSG earlier denied the distribution of funds, saying the terms of the settlement agreement were “grossly disadvantageous to the government and not in accord with existing Philippine laws and jurisprudence.”
The agreement with the New York District Court was entered into by the Presidential Commission on Good Governance (PCGG), the agency tasked to recover the ill-gotten wealth of the Marcos family. But a January 2019 memorandum from the Office of the Executive Secretary required the PCGG to get approval from the OSG and the Department of Justice before agreeing to the terms of any deal.
The Claimants 1081 received two previous tranches of reparation payment after winning the case. The jury awarded them $2 billion worth of proceeds from the sale of paintings recovered from the private secretary of former First Lady Imelda Marcos, Vilma Bautista. Withdrawing from the agreement now could block the third tranche.
Lead lawyer Robet Swift said the pending distribution is supposed to begin on May 1 in Butuan province and in 15 other cities across the country until July.
“I will send eligible Class members letters advising them where and when they may come to receive a check,” he said.
Filipino lawyer Rod Domingo said the compensation will help the martial law victims who need the money for food and medications.
“Many of the victims of the human rights abuses are dead, so the money will provide needed assistance to their families,” he added.
The U.S. court also said the Philippine government will receive $4 million (P208 million) from the settlement.