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Judge OKs payments in Marcos abuse case


The lead attorney for the plaintiffs in the landmark human-rights abuse case against the estate of the former Philippine dictator Ferdinand Marcos said he will personally distribute the first installment of a $2 billion judgment to the more than 7,000 victims or their survivors living in the Philippines.

Yesterday a federal judge approved giving each of the 7,526 eligible claimants $1,000. The money is part of a $10 million settlement with three corporations created by Marcos cronies that own 4,500 acres of land in Texas and Colorado.

"This is a welcome milestone and I hope just the first distribution," said Philadelphia lawyer Robert A. Swift.

He said 70 claimants live in the United States and Canada. The rest live in the Philippines. None of them were in court yesterday when the judge approved the distribution.

While $1,000 might not seem like much, especially after nearly 25 years since the first lawsuit was filed against Marcos, Swift said it will go a long way for the claimants in the Philippines, many of whom live in poverty.

U.S. District Judge Manuel Real also approved the distribution of $2.5 million of the settlement to pay interim attorney fees and costs. The breakdown includes $1.4 million for attorney fees, $847,962 reimbursement for costs and a $300,000 finder’s fee to the person who discovered the Texas and Colorado properties were purchased with Marcos money.

Alan Meeker said he made the discovery while researching the possible purchase of the land for his international private equity fund. He said the Texas properties produce natural gas and that the Colorado property is near a national park.

During the course of his research, Meeker obtained a signed statement from Marcos’ widow, Imelda, admitting that the properties were purchased with Marcos money.

"I was glad that she was willing to cooperate, finally," said Sherry P. Broder, one of the Hawaii lawyers involved in the class-action lawsuit.

Meeker notified the class attorneys of the properties and provided the Imelda Marcos affidavit and witnesses for a separate lawsuit against the crony corporations, Swift said.

Swift said the class attorneys are involved in separate litigations in New York and Singapore to claim $70 million from Marcos accounts.

In addition, they can now pursue $365 million from Imelda and Ferdinand R. "Bong Bong" Jr.

Real found Marcos’ widow and son in contempt of court as individuals and as representatives of the Marcos estate for not abiding with court orders including the payment of the judgment. He included in his contempt order yesterday a $365 million sanction.

The class attorneys have been negotiating with the Philippine government for a share of about $1 billion in an escrow account of funds previously in Swiss banks under Marcos family members’ names.

The first human-rights abuse case was filed in 1986. The federal court combined all of the claims into a class-action lawsuit the following year.

The class members are people who suffered torture, summary executions and disappearances, and their heirs, during Marcos’ 20-year presidency, most of that time under martial law.

The U.S. District Court in Hawaii awarded the class $1.96 billion in damages in 1995, the first judgment in U.S courts for human-rights violations against a former head of state.

The U.S. military spirited Marcos and his family out of the Philippines in 1986 as Filipinos were about to lay siege to Malacanang Palace amid the "People Power" uprising that swept him out of office. Marcos lived in Hawaii until his death in 1989.

His widow and children have since returned to the Philippines and hold elected positions in the government.

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