DAVAO CITY (MindaNews /08 August) – The Human Rights Victims’ Claims Board (HRVCB) ended its four-day intake operations here at 6:30 p.m. Thursday with a total of 1,535 applications for recognition and reparations accepted, HRVCB’s Arcadio Benitez, Jr. told MindaNews Thursday evening.
Using a megaphone while addressing about a hundred claimants still awaiting priority numbers inside the Bankerohan Gym, Benitez announced the cut off at 2:30 p.m., explaining they could only process the applications of those with numbers who were awaiting their turn at the fourth and last table. But Benitez added that they were opening paralegal tables so those who had no priority numbers could sign up, their documents checked if complete and would be assured priority in the next intake in Tagum City and other neighboring areas.
But claimants from the Davao and Cotabato regions who were not accommodated may no longer have to wait for the next intake in Tagum City on October 25 to 27.
Responding to complaints over how disorderly the processing was in Davao City, and other areas where remote intake operations were undertaken, the HRVCB in an emergency board meeting in Quezon City on Thursday, August 7 approved the setting up of an initial five regional desks – in Davao, Cotabato, Iloilo, Tacloban and Legaspi, “hopefully operational by August 18,” board member Jose Luis “Chito” Gascon told MindaNews Thursday evening.
Under RA 10368 or the Human Rights Victims Reparation and Recognition Act of 2013, victims of human rights violations under Marcos’ martial rule must file their claims within a six-month period, from May 12 to November 10, 2014 as failure to file within this period will be considered a waiver.
Benitez said the intake operations, initially scheduled August 4 to 6 but later extended to August 7, accepted 361 applications when it closed at 10 p.m. on August 4; 446 by midnight on August 5; another 482 by midnight on August 6; and 246 by 6:30 p.m. of August 7.
Venue of the first two days was the Davao City Recreation Center, more popularly known by its old name, Almendras Gym, while the venue of the last two days was the Bankerohan Gym.
Complaints over how disorderly the process was were common. “Walang sistema” (There is no system), the claimants said. Several of them added it felt like going through yet “another torture.”
“This is the worst,” Marie Hilao-Enriquez of the human rights Karapatan on Tuesday afternoon at the Almendras Gym. Enriquez had witnessed the remote intake operations in Iloilo and Legaspi cities.
At the Bankerohan Gym on the last day, a special lane for senior citizens and persons with disabilities was finally set up. There was none in the first three days.
A volunteer, however, admitted they could not accommodate all claimants above 60. Priority was given to those who could hardly walk or were using wheelchairs and canes.
For the two-day processing in Bankerohan gym, claimants were treated to a cup of tuna lugaw (porridge) courtesy of the city government
HRVCB board member Gascon told MindaNews Thursday evening that the Board approved during its August 7 meeting in Manila that an initial five regional desks will be set up in Davao, Cotabato, Iloilo, Tacloban and Legaspi “hopefully operational by 18 August.”
Gascon also said they “may add five more regional desks.. provincial mobile teams will continue as well.”
He said HRVCB chair Lina Sarmiento had followed up with the Department of Budget and Management for the funding requirements.
The HRVCB, Gascon said, has a limited budget and has only 30 personnel, including the nine board members.
Gascon asked for updates from the HRVCB chair as he was not able to attend the Board meeting in Metro Manila because of the 10-day meeting of the government-Moro Islamic Liberation Front here on the draft Bangsamoro Basic law. Gascon was a member of the government peace panel that negotiated and signed the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro with the MILF.
He visited Almendras Gym on Tuesday afternoon and the Bankerohan Gym Thursday morning.
Among those who waited to be given a priority number was Jasmin Piang Tonzo, 49, of Sirawan in Davao City whose two brothers were arrested, tortured and detained by the military and police for three months each in 1974 and 1976 in Glan, South Cotabato (now part of Sarangani) and in Davao del Sur on suspicion they were members of the Bangsamoro Army (BMA) of the Moro National Liberation Front.
Jasmin, who was with a group of Moro men and women claimants from Sirawan, was representing her brother, Amado, who was arrested and detained by the military in Glan in 1976. Amado could not file his application due to a heart ailment.
Jasmin was also accompanying another brother, Andy Piang Suapan, who she said, became partly deaf due to the torture he suffered in 1976. She showed reporters a swollen part of her brother’s nape, claiming this was due to the buttstrokes received during his arrest and detention by the Philippine Constabulary (now Philippine National Police) in Davao del Sur.
“Bisan iring atong panahuna, bisan bata basta lalaki, dakpon,” (Even cats during that time, even young boys, were arrested), she said.
A self-proclaimed fan of President Aquino and the President’s celebrity sister, Kris, Jasmin showed MindaNews her yellow expanding envelop containing her brothers’ documents and waved her “Noynoy Aquino for President” fans which she said she had kept since she campaigned for him in 2010.
“Sana matulungan kami ni Presidente” (I hope the President helps us), said Jasmin who had been waiting for her turn since Monday.
Jasmin and her companions will have to wait some more for the next round of intake operations or when the regional desk in Davao opens.
Elsewhere in the gym, two young police personnel in civilian clothes told MindaNews how they learned so much about the martial law experiences of the claimants in the last four days.
“Grabe diay no?” (Terrible), said the young officers who had no direct experience of martial rule, having been born in 1985 and 1988.
They narrated how they would listen to the stories but sometimes would introduce themselves to the claimants to assure them that the present police force is not the same as the police force during martial law. (Carolyn O. Arguillas / MindaNews)