New York court awards $13.75M to Marcos Martial Law victims – lawyer

Lian Buan

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New York court awards $13.75M to Marcos Martial Law victims – lawyer

(UPDATED) American lawyer Robert Swift claims the ruling is binding on the Philippine government despite the earlier decision of the Department of Justice to cancel the settlement

MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) – A New York federal court has ruled to distribute $13.75 million to Filipino victims of Martial Law under the late strongman Ferdinand Marcos, as sourced from the settlement proceeds of paintings seized from Imelda Marcos.

American lawyer Robert Swift, who represents the human rights victims, said in a press statement on Wednesday, April 10, that New York Judge Katherine Failla found that there’s an “actual and apparent authority to bind the Republic (of the Philippines) to the settlement.”

Swift made the claim following a joint decision of the Department of Justice (DOJ), Office of the Solicitor General (OSG), and the Presidential Commission on Good Government (PCGG) on March 11 to not enter into a settlement agreement as it was “disadvantageous to the government.”

Swift said under the agreement, the government would get $4 million while 9,539 victims would get $13.75 million.

Filipino lawyer Rodrigo Domingo said the foreign court ruling would be enforceable here in the Philippines. He told Rappler in a text message that “the DOJ, PCGG, and OSG were overruled by Judges Katherine Failla and Manuel Real.”

“The third distribution will proceed as announced,” Domingo said.

Ruben Carranza, a former PCGG commissioner, said the New York judge “has very strong grounds” to enforce the settlement, and order the distribution of funds, without the Philippine government.

“The proceeds are literally in the US and legally, the US court has control over it,” Carranza told Rappler.

Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra said he could not give a comment yet as he had not read the New York ruling.

“Allow me to read it. I just want to emphasize at this point that the government’s position is not antagonistic to the interests of martial law victims who are also citizens of our country, but to protect the interests of the republic as a whole,” Guevarra told Rappler in a text message on Wednesday.

Swift claimed that Judge Failla had “no hesitation in ordering the transfer of funds,” despite the Philippine government canceling the settlement.

It involves seized assets from from Ilocos Norte 2nd District Representative Imelda Marcos and her former New York aide Vilma Bautista. The assets include prized paintings seized by the US government, so the money is in the custody of the US.

To some extent, Guevarra acknowledged that fact, saying that “the proceeds of the public auction sale of the disputed paintings, is in the US, not here.”

Swift, citing a coordinator for the distribution, said “venues have been rented in 16 cities” to start giving victims their share. –

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Lian Buan

Lian Buan is a senior investigative reporter, and minder of Rappler's justice, human rights and crime cluster.