‘Dad, we’ve got to hide because they are arresting us,’ the voice on the other line said.
It was Nilo Olegario Jr, a student activist who opposed the Marcos regime, talking to his father on the phone. He went missing a few days after and to this day, 25 years later, his body has never been found.
That was December 1985, shortly before a people power revolution toppled the dictator Ferdinand Marcos after 20 years of martial law.
‘Since then, we never heard from Nilo again. His body was never found,’ the senior Nilo said.
Like his son, thousands of activists, church workers and journalists suffered in the hands of the military during the dictatorship. Many disappeared, leaving a gaping hole in the hearts and souls of their loved ones.
On 28 February, in an emotional turnover ceremony, Mr Olegario and 11 other victims of Marcos’s rule received compensation checks as part of a class suit against the Marcoses.
The case, filed in a United States District Court in Hawaii where the Marcoses fled in exile after the 1986 people power revolution booted them out of power, dragged on for years and even after Marcos’s death in 1989.
Robert Swift, the claimants’ main legal counsel, entered into a $10 million settlement with a Marcos crony after the court ruled Marcos’s estate liable for human rights abuses including torture, disappearances and summary executions.
Because of the settlement deal, a check of $1,000 will go to each of the 7,526 claimants involved in the class suit. An initial list of 12 victims received their checks during the ceremonial turnover. Swift said the remainder would be distributed around the Philippines in the coming weeks.
For the recipients, the turnover ceremony brought about mixed feelings.
Rogelio Mangahas, a writer and public school teacher who was detained for 19 months during the martial law years, said those years were the darkest period of his life. ‘It was very dark, too dark to remember. I am both happy and sad today,’ Mangahas told me.
Human rights lawyer Rene Saguisag, who assisted the victims, said it was time for the Marcos family to own up to the human rights abuses that happened during the martial law years. ‘Apologize,’ Saguisag urged Imelda Marcos, the former first lady and her children, Imee and Ferdinand Marcos Jr.
The Marcoses remain in power with Imelda, known around the world for her lavish and extravagant lifestyle, has been occupying a seat at the House of Representatives and her son, at the Senate. There has been no apology from the Marcoses to this day even as the victims themselves attest to the grave abuses during the dictatorship.
In an interview with The New York Times, Ferdinand Marcos Jr said they were not part of his father’s policy. ‘There may have been abuses, but they were never a part of the policy of my father’s administration. Although there were individual abuses, I cannot see how his administration per se can be liable for that,’ Marcos Jr said.
But the deep scars that thousands of human rights victims carry to this day show otherwise.
Hilda Narciso, a church worker, was jailed and gang-raped by the military men who abducted her. She contemplated suicide many times because the pain wouldn’t go away.
For many of the victims, the years have not diminished the pain. And as with most torture victims of other dictators all over the world, without proper retribution and genuine apology from the perpetrators, the scars will never really heal. Not even with a $1,000 check.