Fri, Sep 23, 2005 - Page 9 News List

`Social volcano' waiting to explode in the Philippines


Marie Hilao Enriquez is no longer as agile as she was 32 years ago when she eluded soldiers of late dictator Ferdinand Marcos who raided her apartment in downtown Manila, several months after martial law was imposed in the Philippines.

But her resolve to fight for justice has not wavered.

The 52-year-old activist is at the helm of a campaign of about 10,000 other human-rights victims in demanding their share from US$634 million of Marcos' ill-gotten wealth, which has been returned to the Philippines by the Swiss government.

The monies were stashed by the Marcoses in two Swiss bank accounts that were immediately frozen by the Swiss government after Marcos was ousted in a "people power" uprising that ended his 20-year iron-hand rule in February 1986.

The fund was put into an escrow account at the Philippine National Bank (PNB) in 1998 by the Swiss government, but it was only after the July 15, 2003 decision of the Philippine Supreme Court determining the fund as ill-gotten that the money was actually released.

In March last year, at the height of the presidential election campaign, the Bureau of Treasury ordered the PNB to transfer the money to the government's general fund.

Since then, President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, accused of cheating in the May 2004 vote, has already spent a total of US$200 million of the Marcos money on expenses not related to agrarian reform, which was what the funds were intended for, Enriquez said.

"The [human-rights] victims were very mad," she said. "With the way the Arroyo government is squandering the ill-gotten wealth that has already been recovered, it's like it is being stolen again."

Enriquez reminded Arroyo that one of the preconditions of the Swiss government in returning the Marcos money was that a portion of it would go to the 9,539 human-rights victims who won a class action suit against the dictator's estate in Hawaii in 1992.

"We are just asking for one-third of the total amount," she said. "The money would not have been transferred by the Swiss government had we not charged Marcos in 1986."

Enriquez recalled how she convinced her late parents to be the lead plaintiffs in the class suit. After all, four of their children, including her, suffered immensely at the hands of Marcos.

She clearly recalled that fateful day, six months after Marcos declared martial law on Sept. 21, 1972, when the apartment occupied by her family in downtown Manila was raided by soldiers without a court warrant.

"That was the first time I really felt violated," she said. "I was slapped in the face, we could do nothing. This man was ordering me around. And right in front of me, my companions were mauled. Imagine all this happening inside the security of your home."

Enriquez, who was then a student activist, escaped the raiders but her eldest sister, Liliosa, was not so lucky. Two days later, Liliosa was murdered after being raped and tortured while in detention at police headquarters.

On Oct. 8, 1974, Enriquez, her husband and her brother were arrested by soldiers in the capital. She remained in detention until July 1976 when the chief of the defunct constabulary, former president Fidel Ramos, was forced to release her for being a nursing mother.

"It was very hard," was all that she could mutter when asked now what it was like for her and her family. "Your friends cannot even visit you and openly declare that you are their friends because it will get them in trouble."

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