DAVAO CITY (MindaNews / 06 August) — Outside the Davao City Recreation Center (old name,: Almendras Gym), hundreds of victims or relatives of victims of human rights violations under the Marcos dictatorship, most of them senior citizens — waited under the heat of the sun, by the railings, under trees near walls that reeked of urine, inside or on top of vehicles hired from the Cotabato and Davao regions — for their turn to enter the huge gym.
Inside the gym, the bleachers that could accommodate those waiting outside, were empty.
The few claimants who were allowed to enter after their long wait outside had to wait for their turn again in each of the four tables that they had to pass before their photographs were taken and their “acknowledgment receipt” handed over.
“This is the worst,” Marie Hilao Enriquez, chair of the human rights group, Karapatan, told MindaNews Tuesday afternoon as officials of the Human Rights Victims’ Claims Board (HRVCB) announced that the August 4 to 6 schedule in Davao City had been extended until August 7 but in another venue – the Bankerohan gym, starting August 6.
“Walang sistema,” (no system) said Enriquez, who also went to a similar activity in Iloilo and Legaspi cities. “But this is the worst,” she repeatedly said.
On Monday, claimants were told the venue on Tuesday, August 6, supposedly the last day, was the Sangguniang Panlungsod but on Tuesday, those who managed to get information from the HRVCB and the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) were told to wait for the caravan in Tagum City, Davao del Norte while others were told the venue would be the regional office of CHR along Quimpo Boulevard, a small office that could definitely not accommodate hundreds of claimants.
From Almendras to Bankerohan gym
Almendras Gym was no longer available for August 6 and 7 because it had been previously booked for activities in the run-up to the Kadayawan, the city’s thanksgiving festival.
Acting mayor Paolo Duterte and Bankerohan barangay captain Edgar Ibuyan, Jr. offered the use of the Bankerohan Gym after they were informed of the claimants’ problems. In addition, claimants who had been sleeping outside the Almendras Gym since Sunday night would be allowed to sleep inside the Bankerohan gym.
Since Monday, complaints about how the HRVCB, which is being assisted by the Commission on Human Rights (CHR), was handling the filing process had been mounting, chief of which was there was no system at all. Claimants complained, among others, that there were no signages to guide them, no clear instructions, poor sound system and no consideration for the physical condition of the mostly elderly claimants.
“Victims twice over”
Redemptorist Brother Karl Gaspar, acting Dean of the Saint Alphonsus Theologate and Mission Insitute who writes “A Sojourner’s View” column for MindaNews, wrote a two-part series on his two-day wait at the Almendras Gym.
“Victimizing Victims Twice Over” is Gaspar’s detailed account of how disorderly the processing was that it “victimizes the victims twice over!” and how going through the process felt like they were being tortured again.
Gaspar spent 22 months as a political detainee in Davao City in the early 1980s.
On the second day of his wait, he was furious. “There were those who just arrived today who found ways to find someone they knew among the gatekeepers so they didn’t have to stand in line and be allowed entry even ahead of us. That made me furious even more as I saw a few of them being able to enjoy the privilege,” he wrote.
On Day 1 on August 4, priority numbers were handed out but not everyone was given. On Day 2 on August 4, those who were not served a day earlier but had priority numbers were given new numbers.
Laywer Arcadio Benitez, Jr., told MindaNews that the HRVCB received a total of 807 applications on August 4 and 5 — 361 on August 4 and 446 on August 5. The first day ended at 10 p.m. while the second day ended at midnight, he said.
Claimant Wilfredo “Pidot” Villocino, a salon owner who was arrested by soldiers, “feet first” during a rally in 1984 which he allegedly organized in downtown Davao City, finally got his “acknowledgement receipt” at 9 p.m. Tuesday. He arrived at the gym at around 11 a.m.
There were no longer three lines on Tuesday compared with Monday’s. Claimants waited outside the gym in groups but there were no queues. And no numbers given, too.
“Wala mang number. Mag-antay lang daw kami” (We were not given numbers. We were just told to wait), said Arbaiya Sambuto of Buliok in Pikit, North Cotabato whose nine-year old brother, Hayrudin, was killed by soldiers on July 14, 1983.
Arbaiya was with neighbors who carried folders containing documents for presentation to the HRVCB. They were at the gym since Monday dawn.
Maria Villacarlos, 59, whose house in Lutay in Malungon, Sarangani was burned by soldiers on March 21, 1985, was at the gym at around 5 a.m. Monday. Like Arbaiya, Maria and other out-of-town claimants slept on flattened cardboard boxes outside the gym. “Di man daw pwede pumasok” (we were told we could not enter), she said.
ca award-winners Macario Tiu and Agustin “Don” Pagusara – also political detainees during the Marcos dictatorship — were among those who waited for their turn outside the gym, along with colleagues and fellow ex-political detainees, most of them in their late 50s and 60s.
“Walay sistema” (no system), was their common assessment.
The elderly women among them had to take turns sitting on two portable chairs they had brought along.
‘Let them enter’
HRVCB board member Jose Luis Martin “Chito” Gascon who visited the gym Tuesday afternoon asked Benitez, the officer of the day, why the claimants waiting outside the gym were not allowed to occupy the bleachers. He was told it was the regional CHR that made arrangements. Gascon told Benitez to coordinate with CHR and allow the claimants waiting outside to wait at the bleachers instead.
Gascon told MindaNews that in order to accommodate more claimants, the HRVCB extended the filing process here to August 7. He added that the same activity will be held in Tagum City on October 27 to 30.
Gascon also said HRVCB chair Lina Sarmiento had called for an emergency board meeting on August 7 to address the claimants’ concerns and help improve the situation in the other areas where the same activity would be conducted.
The HRVCB, he explained, has only a staff of 30, inclusive of the nine board members. He said they have a limited budget and have been working in cooperation with the CHR.
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 (May 12 to November 10, 2014).
Failure to file within the six-month period will be considered a waiver.
“We would like to reiterate that all victims of martial law have to apply in person, including those conclusively presumed as human rights violations victims (HRVVs) so that the Claims Board will be able to determine the kind of human rights violations and determine appropriate awards, as provided by RA 10368,“ HRVCB chair Sarmiento had earlier said.
In Mindanao, the HRVCB caravan went to Cotabato City on July 7 to 9, Butuan City on July 28 to 29, Cagayan de Oro City on July 31 to August 1 and Davao City from August 4 to 7.
The HRVCB will go to Zamboanga City on August 18 to 20 and Tagum City on October 25 to 27. (Carolyn O. Arguillas / MindaNews)