West Law Report

US ruling may delay compensation for Marcos victims

Posted in Ferdinand Marcos by mrkooenglish on June 13, 2008

By OLIVER TEVES Associated Press Writer

MANILA, Philippines (AP) – Lawyers for Philippine victims of human rights abuses under late dictator Ferdinand Marcos said Friday they regretted a U.S. Supreme Court decision overturning lower court rulings that gave the victims the right to money stashed by Marcos in the United States.

“We are disappointed that there will be another delay in distribution of the money to the Filipino victims,” their American lawyer, Robert Swift, said Friday.

A group of more than 9,500 victims is claiming $35 million in a Marcos shell company as part of a $2 billion judgment by a Hawaii court in 1995 against the Marcos estate as compensation for summary executions, disappearances and torture during his 20-year rule. With interest, the award has almost doubled, but no payment has been made to any plaintiffs.

The victims, all opponents of Marcos’ rule, and the Philippine government are fighting over $2 million Marcos funneled out of the country in 1972 to Arelma S.A., a Panamanian shell corporation that invested the money with Merrill Lynch, Pierce, Fenner & Smith Inc. in New York. By 2000, it had grown to $35 million.

When Merrill Lynch filed a case with U.S. courts to sort out the dispute, the Philippine government invoked sovereign immunity, the doctrine that bars a legal proceeding against a government without its consent.

Ordinarily, that would have shut down the case in U.S. courts, based on the absent Philippine government being an indispensable party to the case.

But a federal judge in Hawaii decided the matter could proceed and ruled in the victims’ favor, as did the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco, despite the fact that the Philippine government was not a participant.

In their 7-2 decision Thursday, the Supreme Court justices upheld the doctrine and dismissed the earlier rulings.

The Philippine government, which is claiming the money as part of its efforts to recover vast amounts of money Marcos allegedly stole while president, wants a Philippine court to rule on the matter before U.S. courts decide the issue.

Former Rep. Etta Rosales, one of the victims, said she was “extremely disappointed and sad” over the Supreme Court’s decision.

“The Philippine government succeeded in blocking the release of money to the human rights victims,” she said.

2008-06-13 15:27:36 GMT