As president of the Filipino government from 1965 to 1986, Ferdinand Marcos pilfered millions of dollars from the state and permitted torture, summary executions, as well as disappearances. When he died in 1989, after having been forced into exile, victims of his regime’s abuses (the “Marcos victims”) sued his estate in Hawaii to recover for their losses.
Acting on the theory that “malignant governance, enforced by a daily assault against human dignity, could not possibly be legal,” the Marcos victims amassed their case into a class action lawsuit via an initial wrongful death claim brought in 1986 by Agapita Trajano. Trajano’s son was arrested, tortured, and killed by the Filipino military for participating in a youth rally.
In February of 2011, after twenty-five years of protracted litigation disputing the administration of the Marcos estate, the Marcos victims won their first tangible victory. Just last week, the United States District Court in Hawaii ordered respective compensation payments of $1,000 to be distributed to 7,500 plaintiffs. Most of this money comes from a $10 million settlement collected from individuals controlling Texas and Colorado land bought with Marcos’s assets.
Now, based on the Marcos decision, a precedent has been set for former leaders of abusive regimes to be held civilly liable for their wrongs. Do you think civil penalties are a good way to address human rights abuses? Is the Marcos judgment a positive development because it directly remedies those harmed? Or are monetary awards somehow inadequate? Is criminal liability preferable?