Sherry Broder


Marcos Regime Guilty on Torture Charges

Jury will award damages to thousands of victims

Friday, September 25, 1992

Ferdinand Marcos was responsible for wholesale abductions, tortures, summary executions and "disappearances" that occurred during his martial law regime, and his estate must pay damages, a federal jury found yesterday.

After deliberating the equivalent of two days, the seven-man, four woman panel returned with verdicts favoring all but two of the trial's approximately 10,000 Filipino plaintiffs.

One of the exempted two was inadvertently left off the jury's verdict forms. The other - the family of murdered Visayan school teacher Wilson Madayag, a Marcos critic - was not found deserving of damages.

According to his brother, Apolinario, who testified at the trial, Madayag was gunned down by soilders. Marcos-estate lawyers argued there was no evidence linking the death directly to Marcos.

The federal civil trial, in the courtroom of visiting U.S. District Judge Manuel Real of Los Angeles, is unique in that it involves the first class-action suit to be tried in this country, for alleged human-rights violations in a foreign country.

The trial now moves into its second phase: determining how much money the Marcos estate she be assessed in damages. The same jury will decide that figure, although perhaps not for weeks or even months.

The plaintiffs have not yet disclosed how much they are seeking in damages, but it could be in the billions of dollars.

The Marcos family is reported to have at least $320 million frozen in Swiss bank accounts and is said to have many more assets, especially gold and jewelry, in various other places around the world.

The only Marcos family member to attend the trial - she was there every day - was Ferdinand Marcos' younger sister, Fortuna Berba. Dressed in black, she sat attentively on the edge of her seat as yesterday's verdicts were read. She declined to comment to the press later.

To friends and relatives of the plaintiffs, the verdicts brought relief and tears of happiness.

Attorneys Sherry Broder of Honolulu and Robert Swift of Philadelphia, who represented the plaintiffs, hugged each other as the verdicts were read.

Judge Real continued his gag order forbidding attorneys to talk to the press about the trial itself, but Broder said of the verdicts: "We're extremely pleased and very proud." Swift called it "a great victory."

Philippines Consul General Solita Aguirre, who attended much of the trial, said the verdicts "again confirm my belief in the American justice system. Six years have passed since the end of Marcos rule, and this is the first court anywhere to rule against Marcos. The U.S. justice ststem works! It really works."

Added Agapita Trajano, whose 20-year-old son Archimedes Trajano was tortured and killed by Philippine military men in September 1977: "I think my son has peace now, I believe in America! America the beautiful!"

San Francisco attorney Melvin Belli, who with associate Randall Scarlett represented the 21 plaintiffs, said he thinks the defense lost "because it didn't have a case.

"I've waited for years to try this case. I knew Ferdinand and Imelda; I used to visit them in Malacanang Palace. But there was never any doubt in my mind about what was going on in the Philippines."

One of Belli and Scarlett's 21 plaintiffs, Geraldo Socco, said he was speaking for all of those plaintiffs in saying the verdicts "culminate the many long years of struggle was have (endured) to make our story known to the world. Henceforth, Marcos and other dictators all over the world will be accountable for human-rights violations they make.

"While we pick up the pieces of our lives and start anew, we feel a heavy burden has been removed from our shoulders when we told our experiences to the court. To those who have been left behind and never made it, our victory is also their victory."

The plaintiffs called nearly 50 witnesses who testified by videotape or in person. Eight were expert witnesses, including former U.S. ambassador to the Philippines Steven Bosworth.

The defense, handled by attorneys from the Oklahoma City office of Imelda Marcos attorney James Linn, had indicated earlier that it would call as witnesses about 10 generals who served under Marcos, but by trial's end no defense witnesses were called. The defense strategy appeared to be one - often used in a criminal case - of putting on no witnesses so there is an appearance of insufficient evidence to prove the plaintiff's allegations. And in a civil trial, the plaintiffs have the burden of proof.

The defense claimed that U.S. federal court has no jurisdiction in the plaintiffs' allegations; that those allegations essentially amount to hearsay; and that Marcos cannot be held responsible for what individual members of his military may have done.

The trail began Sept. 9 and ended Monday. Its most emotionally wrenching testimony came from a parade of Filipinos who - sometimes choking back tears - told of being beaten, tortured, raped and/or detained without charges, or seeing friends treated that way and even killed, during Marcos' martial law period of 1972-81 and until Marcos fell from power in 1986.

Throughout, the plaintiffs' attorneys kept hammering away - especially through expert witnesses - at linkage with Marcos, and the defense attorneys kept stressing that any abuses were the work of individual military members acting on their own.

One particularly damaging document introduced into evidence by the plaintiffs was a two-page memorandum - marked "Secret" - to Marcos from his chief military aide, Gen Fabian Ver, saying that dissident Horatio "Boy" Morales was undergoing "tactical interrogation," which several witnesses at the trial testified was a common euphemism by the Marcos regime for torture.

At the top of the memo is the hand-written word "approved," and under it is Marcos' signature.

The trial consolidates three lawsuits:

  • Belli and Scarlett's 21 plaintiffs - mostly doctors, lawyers and other professional people - alleging they were victims of a variety of Marcos-caused atrocities.
  • Several friends and family of three Filipinos - one dead, the other two still living - who say they were tortured and subjected to other abuses. Representing them were lawyers from the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California an Human Rights Watch, an international human-rights monitoring organization.
  • The biggest part of the trial: the class-action lawsuit on behalf of about 10,000 Filipinos, including former students, Catholic nuns and labor leaders who opposed Marcos and were persecuted for it.

Ferdinand Marcos died in Honolulu three years ago, driven to exile by the "people power" revolution headed by Corazon Aquino. His body remains in an air-conditioned temporary mausoleum at Valley of the Temples Memorial Park in Ahuimanu. His widow Imelda has been pushing for the body to be returned to the Philippines, although she recently said she did not have the money to charter a plane to fly it home.

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