Victims of the Marcos Regime Get Compensation

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?


  1. The Alient Tort Statute (ATS) provides U.S. courts with jurisdiction over tort actions filed by foreigners for violations of a treaty or customary international law. This statute was nearly dormant for 200 years until the Second Circuit decided Filartiga in 1980. The court decided that the kidnapping and torturing to death of a Paraguayan citizen by a Paraguayan official violated the law of nations and thus there was jurisdiction under ATS. There has been a great increase in ATS cases since that ruling. The “Marcos Victims” similarly to Filartiga were victims to government officials. I think these leaders must be held accountable when violating the laws of the nations. Human right abuses are universally condemned and victims should be afforded a chance at recourse. Although I believe these government officials should be held criminally liable, I think this ruling is a step (even if a small one) in the right direction.

  2. The suit brought by the Marcos victims proves to be both courageous and creative. However, when dealing with severe human rights violations, civil penalties do not seem to even being to address the wrongs that are done by leaders such as Marcos. The plaintiffs brought their case under the claim of the illegality of “daily assaults against human dignity”. Having your human rights violated daily through physical attacks, fear and otherwise is not remedied by a nominal monetary award. Especially in this particular instance, since the lawsuit was brought after Marcos’ death – it did not make him stop his reign of terror or even influence it. It seems doubtful to me that if he was still alive and was the leader of the country that the plaintiffs would have brought the suit and also that a court would have made him pay damages. Additionally if he was still the leader it further seems doubtful that a court would have actually tried to make him stop committing human rights abuses. I mention this as I try to envision possible future human rights suits brought while the leader is still in power which try to apply this precedent.
    While monetary damages in some ways seem inadequate this is great victory for those that brought the case. It is an affirmation of the value of the victims’ lives and a condemnation of the experiences which they were put through. It will also possibly encourage victims in other countries to try to do the same. This could possibly prove to be a way to help hold leaders more accountable for their actions. Overall, I am impressed that a court heard this claim and ultimately did award damages to the victims.

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