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30th year of the Hawaii Class Suit

Statement of Amaryllis Hilao-Enriquez, sister of Liliosa Hilao, on the 30th year of the filing of the historic class action suit against President Marcos and his estate, or the human rights litigation MDL-840 (US Federal Court of Honolulu, Hawaii)
April 7, 2016

Exactly 30 years ago today, on April 7, 1986, a historic class action suit was filed by the Filipino victims of human rights violations during the martial law regime of President Ferdinand E. Marcos. The organization of the victims, now renamed Samahan ng Ex-Detainees Laban sa Detensyon at Aresto or SELDA, deemed it wise to lead the class action suit against the dictator who was flown to Hawaii by the US government that, up to the time the former and his family were booted out of power by the Filipinos in a people power uprising, considered him an ally.

SELDA, whose members were tortured and detained, took it upon itself to seek ways to make the dictator, including his family, accountable for the sins they committed against the Filipino people because no one seemed bent to punish the dictator. Everyone was simply euphoric when the Marcoses fled and a new regime was being formed.

For SELDA, the charges filed against Marcos sought to demand justice for the victims of human rights violations or as the Court described them – crimes against humanity – like summary execution or “salvaging” (a martial law euphemism), disappearances, and torture. SELDA wanted to let the nation and the world know of the human rights violations experienced by Filipinos during martial law.

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SELDA leaders sought the help of their president, Atty. Jose Mari Velez, to find out how best to file charges against the dictator. In one of his travels to the US, Atty. Velez met an American lawyer, Atty. Robert Swift, whose law firm agreed to shoulder the costs of litigation and later to be repaid with money to be recovered from the dictator. SELDA immediately set to work by helping Atty. Swift get the depositions of the named plaintiffs who happened to be with SELDA. I convinced my parents – Mr. Maximo H. Hilao and Mrs. Celsa R. Hilao to be the lead plaintiff for the murder of my detained sister, Liliosa R. Hilao. (Thus, the suit is also known as Hilao et al vs. Ferdinand Marcos.) I also convinced our youngest sister, Ms. Josefina Hilao-Forcadilla, to be one of the 10 named plaintiffs in the historic class action suit. My former common-law husband and I were likewise plaintiffs in class suit.

We won a favorable judgment in 1992. I give my highest salute to the men, women, minors, especially the elderly who are not with us anymore as we struggled hard to make the Marcoses accountable for the human rights violations and plunder they committed against the Filipino people. When Atty. Velez died in 1991, Justice Romeo T. Capulong became SELDA’s counsel and the first thing he asked of us was the written agreement between SELDA and Atty. Swift. When SELDA chair Mr. Danilo Vizmanos and I wrote Atty. Swift about this, he got angry with all of us. In spite of a bitter tiff with our American lawyer, we still consider our winning the suit a historic landmark as it highlighted the struggle of a big number of martial law victims to make one dictator accountable for his crimes. The favorable judgment also served well the campaigns of other human rights violations victims in other parts of the world. That is why, we had wanted the judgment to be final and executory and refused Ms. Imelda Marcos’ offer of a US$150M settlement agreement in 1995 when the judgment was not yet final and executory.

It is indeed sad that Marcos, the leader who rode roughshod over our people’s rights, has not yet been made fully accountable for his sins; and the victims are still crying for justice. The struggle for justice is long and hard and the Filipino people must never forget those who are not among us anymore. Indeed, they must go on fighting for their rights so that impunity will not again be the hallmark of another regime.

Now, the son of the dictator is running for the second highest position in the land. We hope that on this 30th year of the filing of the historic class action suit by the victims themselves, Filipinos, especially the young voters called millenials. or those who did not experience martial law, will always remember the shining hour that the youths before them faced; that they rose to the occasion and struggled hard to allow the coming generations, including them, to achieve the basic rights they now enjoy.

We, too, commend the group that is now bent on reliving the plunder charges against Bongbong Marcos in relation to the pork barrel scam. May they win their case and we fervently hope that Bongbong Marcos will not win in this election!



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