Lacson questions 30 percent share of American lawyer in compensation for martial law victims

Published May 4, 2019, 12:07 PM

by AJ Siytangco

By Vanne Elaine Terrazola 

Senator Panfilo Lacson has questioned the payment made to the American lawyer who led the lawsuit against former President Ferdinand Marcos and his family in Hawaii, as he lamented the “tiny drop” of compensation for victims of human rights violations under the Martial Law.

Sen. Panfilo Lacson (Senate of the Philippines / MANILA BULLETIN)
Sen. Panfilo Lacson
(Senate of the Philippines / MANILA BULLETIN)

“Don’t we find it rather odd, if not anomalous, that victims of martial law abuses are getting a tiny drop in the bucket as compensation, while an American lawyer has been awarded by an American judge a huge 30 percent of the total amount being sought by Filipinos?” Lacson said in a statement issued Friday night.

The senator referred to the United States district court’s decision granting the 30-percent attorney’s fee for Robert Swift, who served as the lead counsel for the class suit against the Marcos estate.

It earlier allowed the issuance of $13.7 million in compensation to more than 6,000 victims of human rights violations under the Marcos dictatorship.

Under the court’s ruling, Swift would get $4.125 million, or about P214 million, of the $13.7-million settlement proceeds from the sale of paintings owned by former first lady Imelda Marcos.

The Martial Law victims, or members of their families, meanwhile, would receive $1,500, or P77,500 each. Swift started distributing the checks to the claimants last May 1.

Lacson, however, found the court’s decision unfair to the human rights victims, with Swift getting a large share of their settlement.

“It’s like justice continues to elude them, first by martial law and now, by a foreign country’s justice system,” he said.

Some groups of victims of the Marcos human rights violations had also complained about Swift’s “exorbitant” fee.

In an interview with GMA News earlier Friday, Swift maintained that he has worked over the class action for more than three decades without proper pay.

And the $4.125 million, he said, was only “one-fifth of what his salary should’ve been.”

“So it not that we’re getting a windfall, it’s that we’ve worked for this for 33 years,” the lawyer said.

The Office of the Solicitor-General (OSG) was opposed to the settlement agreement as it found the deal “grossly disadvantageous” to the government and not in accord with existing Philippine laws and jurisprudence.

But Swift said that the Office of the President, Department of Justice and the Presidential Commission on Good Government had approved the settlement deal before the OSG objected.

“The OSG seemed to be the odd man out. And the reality is, this is properties that were in the court of New York and the Philippine court never had jurisdiction to adjudicate it,” he maintained.

In the televised interview, Swift also noted that the distribution of the P77,500 checks to human rights victims will take six months. Any unclaimed compensation, he said, will revert to the settlement fund in Hawaii until the court decides anew to release it.

Swift noted that he was defending another case involving $41 million worth of Marcos assets against the Philippine Republic.

He said he asked for a meeting with President Duterte to resolve the matter but the Chief Executive has yet to accommodate him.