MANILA, Philippines – About 7,500 victims of human rights abuses during late Philippine dictator Ferdinand Marcos' regime will receive compensation for their suffering starting next week, 25 years after a peaceful revolt forced Marcos into exile in Hawaii, their lawyers said Thursday.
It is the first time the victims will receive any compensation since they filed a class suit in 1986.
"The distribution is historic and a triumph after 25 years of struggle to achieve justice," said American lead lawyer Robert Swift.
Swift said victims will receive the equivalent of $1,000 each starting in a ceremony on Monday. Swift and his Filipino co-counsels, assisted by the Commission on Human Rights, will distribute checks personally to claimants or their heirs in Manila and 15 other locations in the country.
One co-counsel, former Sen. Rene Saguisag, said "the money is important but more important is to send the message to would-be dictators, to would-be human rights violators, that they cannot hide anywhere."
Saguisag said the payments should warn dictators now facing uprisings in the Middle East or elsewhere that "there is no haven for gross human rights violators."
Last month, U.S. District Judge Manuel Real approved the distribution of $7.5 million to 7,526 eligible members of the class-action lawsuit. There were 9,539 members at the beginning of the case but some 2,000 did not meet court requirements.
The funds to be distributed come from a $10 million settlement of a case against individuals controlling Texas and Colorado land bought with Marcos money, but some $2.5 million was deducted for legal fees and payment to the person who located the properties.
Swift said the $1,000 is not an adequate amount and was just a start, and that more money may be forthcoming.
Last month Real issued a judgment holding Marcos' widow Imelda and son Ferdinand Jr. in contempt for violating a U.S. court order requiring them to furnish information on assets of the Marcos estate and to not dissipate the holdings. The court ordered them to pay a fine of $353.6 million for the benefit of the victims.
Swift said the contempt judgment "will give us an opportunity to pursue other assets that we haven't been able to pursue."
Two other court cases in Singapore and New York involving a total of $68 million are also nearing conclusion, Swift added.
The payments to the victims will partly fulfill a $2 billion judgment against the Marcos estate in 1995. A federal jury awarded the money after finding Marcos liable for torture, summary executions and disappearances of political opponents during his 20-year rule.
But the victims never received any money until now because of disputes over Marcos' property. The Philippine government maintains that all Marcos property was stolen from the Filipino people and has fought any distribution to victims of human rights violations.
The latest case was an exception because Manila had already settled its own claim against the people who control the land in Colorado and Texas.
(This version corrects that U.S. District Judge Manuel Real is not based in Hawaii.)