THE Court of Appeals has dismissed the petition filed by victims of human rights violations during the Marcos administration seeking the enforcement of the final judgment of a US court awarding them $2 billion in damages.
In a 19-page decision, the CA’s Twelfth Division through Associate Justice Normandie Pizarro instead upheld the decision rendered by the Makati City Regional Trial Court dismissing the complaint for recognition and enforcement of foreign judgment filed by Priscilla Mijares, Loretta Ann Rosales, Hilda Narciso Sr., Mariani Dimaranan and Joel Lamangan on behalf of the class plaintiffs in the US class action consisting of about 10,000 human rights victims during the dictator’s regime.
The appellate court ruled that the final judgment rendered by the Hawaii Court on Feb. 3, 1995 awarding a total of $1.964 billion in damages to human rights victims during the Marcos administration is not binding because the US court had no jurisdiction as the right to due process of all the unnamed claimants, as well as the respondent Marcos estate, had been violated.
“To our minds, the failure of the final judgment to meet the standards of what a valid judgment is in our country compels us to deny its enforcement,” the CA said.
“Rules of comity should not be made to prevail over our Constitution and we cannot allow foreign impositions to trample upon our sovereignty,” the appellate court added.
It explained that the Hawaii District Court certified MDL 840 as a class suit, which should mean that the parties who file the case both for themselves and those they seek to represent share a common legal interest—“that is, the subject of the suit over which there exists a cause of action is common to all persons who belong to the group.”
However, the appellate court said that in the final judgment issued by the Hawaii court and being sought to be enforced here, the purported claimants were classified into three subclasses according to the basis of their claims—namely, torture, summary execution and disappearance of victims.
According to the appellate court, such classification of the claimants is an obvious recognition that “no common question of law and fact exists between/among the claimants.”
“In other words, each claimant in MDL 840 had a right, if any, only to the damage that such individual may have suffered, and not one of them had any right to or can claim any interest in the damage or injury which another suffered,” it ruled. “Hence, MDL 840 was not and should not have been brought as a class suit.”
The CA also ruled that the Hawaii Court failed to ensure that the 10 Filipino citizens who initiated MDL 840—Celsa Hilao, Josefina Hilao Forcadilla, Arturo Revilla, Jr., Rodolfo Benosa, Danila Fuente, Renato Pineda, Adora Faye de Vera, Domiciano Amparo, Christopher Sorio, and Jose Duran—were truly and legally authorized by the other purported claimants.
It noted that Hilao, et al did not identify the other claimants they purportedly represented and also failed to present any power of attorney from any of them.
“In the absence, therefore, of such authority, the final judgment rendered by said court is not binding because the right to due process of all the unnamed claimants, as well as the herein respondent estate, had been violated,” the CA said.
The appellate court added that the final judgment failed to meet the standards for a valid judgment considering that despite the complaint in MDL 840 was filed under the Anti Tort Claim Act, the said decision was, however rendered on the basis of a different law, presumably the Torture Victim Protection Act.
ATCA is a law that grants jurisdiction to federal district courts over all causes where an alien sues for any harm resulting from a violation of international law, no matter where the harm occurred, or who inflicted the harm, as long as the plaintiff serves process in the US territory.
The CA said the final judgment in MDL 840 used procedures, such as the classification of the purported claimants into subclasses, which are not provided for under the ATCA.
Besides, the CA noted that the US Supreme Court had recently issued a ruling in Kiobel v. Royal Dutch Petroleum that abandons previous rulings that the ATCA applies to claims involving human rights abuses or other international law alleged to have occurred in foreign countries.
“Given the foregoing recent development, it is our considered opinion that the instant final judgment may not be enforced in this jurisdiction as it is clear that even the US Supreme Court has come to realize that American laws could not have jurisdiction over sovereign countries,” the CA pointed out.
“As things stand, therefore, the claimants in MDL 840 have lost whatever right of action they may have under the ATS or the ATCA,” the decision said.
Associate Justices Samuel Gaerlan and Jhosep Lopez concurred with the ruling.