By Vann Marlo M. Villegas, Reporter

THE UNITED States Federal Court in New York directed the transfer and distribution of $13.75 million in settlement proceeds to 9,539 human rights-abuse victims during the martial-law period of the Marcos dictatorship.

In a statement dated April 9, lawyer Robert Swift, lead counsel of the victims, said New York Judge Katherine Polk Failla “was intimately involved in negotiating the settlement and knew the authority of each of the parties. Class Counsel will now focus on the distribution of $1,500 to each eligible claimant.”

“The distribution will begin May 1 in Butuan followed by sequential distributions in 15 other cities during May, June and July. I will send eligible Class members letters advising them where and when they may come to receive a check,” he added.

The settlement for the class suit in connection with an art work sequestered from the Marcos family was reached in January but the Office of the Solicitor-General (OSG) tried to halt the settlement and distribution of the proceeds, according to Mr. Swift — a claim the OSG denied.

Mr. Swift said Judge Failla found there is “actual and apparent authority to bind the Republic (of the Philippines) to the settlement.” He also said the country will also receive $4 million from the settlement.

The art work in question is a “Water Lily” painting done by Vilma Bautista, a former secretary of former first lady and Ilocos Norte 2nd District Rep. Imelda R. Marcos. The painting is valued at $32 million.

Members of the class suit “are Filipinos who were tortured, summarily executed or disappeared during the Martial Law years,” Mr. Swift said in his statement.

For its part, the OSG, in its statement, maintained it fully recognizes that the human rights-abuse victims stand to benefit from the order but pointed out that the proper venue for their claims would be the Human Rights Victims’ Claims Board or in the probate proceedings where the Marcos estate is being settled.

It nevertheless added that the said procedure is being recognized by the Swiss Federal Supreme Court and the United States Department of Justice.

The OSG said Mr. Swift “refuses to enforce the $2 Billion Hawaii Court award he obtained at the proper fora,” and insists on interfering with government’s efforts in gaining back the ill-gotten wealth of the Marcoses “in foreign jurisdictions such as cases in the US, Switzerland and Singapore, including the current interpleader proceedings in New York.”

“It appears that Swift’s determination to assert his clients’ claims wherever and whenever he deems possible is driven, not by the purely noble aim to seek justice and retribution for the human rights victims, but by the hefty attorney’s fees he stands to receive,” OSG also said.