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Did martial law ever end?

MANILA (UCAN) : The Association of Major Religious Superiors in The Philippines called on the government to compensate human rights victims of Martial Law as the country marked the 43rd anniversary of its declaration on September 21.

In 2013, the Philippine government passed into law the Human Rights Victims Reparation and Recognition Act to recognise victims of martial law and indemnify them for the suffering they experienced.

“Nothing is happening to the claims. I think hundreds already applied for compensation, but the government seems not ready to release it,” Franciscan Sister Crescencia Lucero, from the Justice and Peace Commission, said.

The law, which acknowledges the obligation of the state to provide reparation to the victims, gives recognition to the heroism and sacrifices of human rights violation victims during the period of martial law, from 21 September 1972 to 25 February 1986, under the rule of the late dictator, Ferdinand Marcos.

The government has since created the Human Rights Violations Compensation Board to process and accept applications from victims.

Sister Lucero said many victims have already applied for compensation, but nothing has happened.

“They should be given what is due them,” the sister said, adding that the compensation is actually just a token.

Sister Lucero expressed the hope that the government will speed up the process of recognising victims of martial law, adding that not all the victims applied for compensation.

“Some didn’t apply, as they are convinced that nothing will come out it, while there are also those who chose not to file for the sake of those who most need it,” she continued.

To mark the anniversary, human rights groups staged protests around the country to condemn what they called continuing repression and terror.

“The proliferation and use of paramilitary groups as surrogates of the military are the same today as they were during martial law,” Marie Hilao-Enriquez, the chairperson of human rights group, Karapatan, said.

Hilao-Enriquez cited the murder of two tribal leaders and a school executive in the province of Surigao del Sur on September 1 as being “one among the many in the military’s record of arming and using paramilitary groups as pawns in its counterinsurgency operations.”

She added, “The names may have changed, but they are all the same.”

Karapatan says that its records show 282 extrajudicial murders documented and 77 cases involved paramilitary groups.

More than four decades after the declaration of martial law, the murders continue, especially in the countryside.

The Peasant Movement of The Philippines, an alliance of landless peasants, small farmers and farm workers, reported that unidentified gunmen shot and killed two of their leaders in the province of Bulacan on September 19.

The victims, 65-year-old Roger Vargas and his 60-year-old wife, Lucila, were leaders of the United Farmers of San Isidro. They were on their way to the local market to sell their produce when the gunmen attacked.

“We condemn in the strongest possible terms the extrajudicial killing. Their brutal killing is obviously linked to their just and legitimate struggle to own the land they till,” Antonio Flores, the secretary general of the peasant alliance, said.

Flores said the presence of the military in peasant communities “bolstered the culture of impunity and even emboldened the perpetrators who killed the farmers.”