Pinoy Gulf War claims: facts and figures, Part 2

THE Governing Council of the United Nations Compensation Commission, as gathered from a press release posted on UNCC Website, held its 36th session last June 13-15, 2000 at its headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland. Presided over by Ambassador Hans J. Heinemann of the Netherlands, the Council, basing from three reports and recommendations of concerned Panels of Commissioners, approved payments for compensation in the amount of US$148,051,137 to 655 Category D (individual claims for damages above US$100,000) and 10 Category F (claims of governments and international organization) claimants. Including this session’s approved payments, UNCC, as of June 15, 2000, has awarded compensation of US$15,669,471,007 to 2,588,728 claimants.

As of UNCC’s latest fund release dated June 8, 2000, a total of US$6,807,546,431.12 has already been made available to Governments and international organizations for distribution to successful claimants. Those awarded compensation have now reached 1,501,855 in number, nearly half of the total number of claims already resolved. The UNCC still has to resolve claims numbering to 13,086, all under Categories D, E and F. The Commission aims to complete the processing of the remaining claims by mid-2003. There is no target date set by the Commission to complete payments of all compensation sought as fund needed is dependent on Iraq’s income derived from export of its petroleum and petroleum products. The UN Compensation Fund receives 30 per cent of the revenue, under the “oil-for-food” mechanism established by Security Council Resolution 986.

New claims and corrections to old

As previously reported, claims filed by the Philippine government for some 40,215 claimants fell under categories A, B, C and D only. With the latest session held by the Council, not only did I note changes in the number of claimants and the total amount of compensation approved for payment, I also learned that the Philippine government has filed for Category F and E claims. Claims were filed, in particular, by the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA), the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA) and the Central Bank of the Philippines (CBP) and were all classified under Category F1. The Philippine Airlines (PAL) has also submitted claims under Category E3.

With this new information, my previous report now stands to be corrected: all six claims categories, and not only four, were covered in so far as the Philippine government and the Filipino claimants are concerned. As all claims under Category A, B, and C have long been resolved by the Commission, there are no changes in the total number of claimants as identified in my last report. However, as per UNCC Decision No. 99, dated June 15, 2000, awards of compensation under Category C claims, particularly in the last two installments (sixth and seventh), have been revised. Including corrections to Category A claims (under fourth, fifth and sixth installments), which I noted only lately to have been reported in Decision No. 95, dated March 17, 2000, the total amount awarded for compensation under Category A and C alone is US$166,643,480.99. Adding up the US$155,000 already paid to all 45 Category B claimants and the previously reported US$459,840.65 for seven Category D claims, the total is now US$167,258,321.64. In my previous report, the total was US$167,411,462.16.

More Category D claimants

I was wrong in my previous assumption that Category D claimants totaled only to seven and that the number of installments decided by the UNCC were only four in all. With the latest session held by the Council, another claim, falling under fifth installment, has been awarded compensation in the amount of US$39,020.02 . The claimant, as reported in Decision 97 dated June 15, 2000, has originally asked for compensation of US$110,847.00.

It now appears that claims under Category D by Filipino claimants will still increase in number as the Governing Council continues to resolve claims in two to three years from now. Unfortunately, I still can’t find any reference as to the over-all total of claims submitted by Filipinos. As of UNCC’s latest update of figures under Status of Claims Processing dated June 16, 2000, there are still 8,331 Category D claims to be resolved. In the same table, I noted that 2,397 claims have already been resolved and of this number, 2,201 claimants have already been awarded compensation.

As of June 15, 2000, the total amount recommended for payment to the now reported eight Filipino claimants is US$498,860.67.

Philippine government claims

As contained in the 81-page “Report and Recommendations Made by the Panel of Commissioners Concerning the Fourth Installment of ‘F1’ Claims” dated June 15, 2000, the Philippines was one of the ten Governments identified therein to have sought compensation in the “total approximate amount of US$425 million, including interest.” Covering nine pages (Paragraphs 164 to 205) of the said report, the Panel has clearly explained the proceedings of how the final total amount of awards for compensation was decided, along with other pertinent and interesting facts and figures.

UNCC Claim No. 5000276 was how the Philippine Category F1 claims was identified in the report. Originally, it said that “the Republic of the Philippines sought US$32,017,236 as compensation for the costs incurred and losses suffered by two Government departments – the DFA and OWWA – and by the Central Bank of the Philippines.” I found the following statement very interesting and I further quote:

In a submission dated 8 July 1999, the Claimant attempted to increase the total amount of its Claim to US$42,124,039. The claims of each entity, as reclassified by the Panel, are addressed in turn.

In the end, the UNCC has awarded US$7,567,327 as compensation for the consolidated Philippine Government claim: US$1,047,998 for evacuation costs incurred by DFA; US$4,599,072 for OWWA which includes claims for property loss, payment or relief to others and evacuation costs; and US$1,920,257 for CBP. PAL’s Category E3 claim was contained in Decision 61 dated March 18, 1999. The amount of compensation recommended is US$52,224. Originally, PAL sought US$998,872.

I would like to mention that all of OWWA’s approved claims for “payment or relief to others” in the amount of US$570,926 are supposed to cover the cash loaned to some 5,800 individuals or families evacuated from the Middle East. I learned that those who availed of the financial assistance are being asked by OWWA to pay – thru automatic deduction from the total amount of claims payment received. Now that OWWA’s claim for compensation has been awarded, it should return back to the claimants the full P2,500 taken, as soon as funds are made available by the UNCC. And it should stop from now asking repayments for the loan from those who are still to receive their compensation.

In summary, the over-all total of compensation awards approved by UNCC to the Philippines has now reached US$174,916,892.66: US$135,528,000.00 for Category A claims; US$155,000.00 for Category B; US$31,115,480.99 for Category C; US$498,860.67 for Category D; US$52,224 for Category E; and US$7,567,327 for Category F.

Issues

To be honest, I feel inadequate to discuss the issues I mentioned the last time affecting the Filipino claimants as a whole. Difficult as it was in the beginning to report on something learned from someone else’ report, I somehow managed to sustain my interest and lose not the hope of finding something I can base my story from when I discovered the UNCC homepage on the web. Having full access to the Internet at home, I relentlessly attacked the site and gobbled all the information I could get. Yet some of the data I need couldn’t be found in there.

The most important issue, and by which the writing of these last three related stories was inspired, is the reported misuse of the Compensation Fund by one high-ranking DFA official, obviously, in cohorts with some other undisclosed personas in the government service. After that May 8 Senate hearing, supposedly to question the officials involved, no word was ever heard reporting on the said investigation. The efforts I exerted in the past months to gather the needed information, sadly, were all in vain. In the end, I had to rely on my own resources, both natural and “webby”, that is.

Using my analytical mind, largely honed from long years of experience in investigative reporting, I got some answers to most of the questions as I went along with the study of quite a number of UNCC documents printed. When I noticed that the Philippines was not included among those given funds for payment to successful claimants in UNCC’s five consecutive releases of funds between April and November 1999, I found it strange that it should be the case. I patiently “looked around” and I found the answer from the following statement released by the Council on the closing of its 31st session last March 18, 1999:

”The Council also discussed the issue of distribution of payments to successful claimants by Governments and international organizations. The Council expressed concern over the significant amount of funds being held by some Governments that have not yet been distributed to claimants within the one year time limit set by the Council and are due to be returned to the Commission. The Council decided to withhold future payments to those Governments failing to distribute monetary awards to the claimants or to return undistributed funds to the Commission.

Without even mentioning names, one can easily surmise that the Philippine government was one among those suspended by the Council.

And now what? Just as the Commission recommenced giving payments to the Philippines last February 17, 2000, the news about the anomalous use of the Fund surfaced. It is no wonder then that in the last two UNCC’s release of fund, dated March 17, 2000 and June 8, 2000, the Philippines was again not included!

With regard to the less than the UNCC-prescribed initial payment of US$2,500 received by quite a number of Filipino claimants, I still believe that the occurrence was not the course of event the Commission would expect. I found a basis to this belief from my readings through each UNCC’s report of a latest decision to award or release fund for compensation. Please read the following pronouncement quoted from the Commission’s latest press release, dated June 15, 2000:

“The priority accorded to individual claimants in categories A and C in the second phase of payments follows the earlier first phase of payments, which involved an initial payment of US$2,500 to each successful individual claimant in categories A and C, as well as payment of the full amount to all successful claimants in category B (claims for death or serious personal injury).”

The officials at the Philippine Claims and Compensation Committee Secretariat (PCCCS) were claimed by victims of this ‘anomalous procedure’ to have retorted, when asked, that what was given was what had been originally claimed and approved, accordingly, by UNCC. When I went to the PCCCS office last year to claim my partial payment, I had a chance of sitting beside a claimant whose notice received was for a full payment. I remember asking her then if she already received her initial partial payment and I was surprised to learn that it was her very first notice received. We were both waiting then to be called for submission of documents and “interview” prior to the release of check. She was called first and when she came out she told me that the check she received was just for over US$1,000! She was told inside that the amount she received was based from what she originally claimed. You should see the look of sadness and unbelief on her face! I felt so helpless as I couldn’t give her any help. The only thing I did was to ask one DFA official previously assigned in Kuwait and he told me the same. And I believed him.

We don’t know for sure how the DFA official was discovered to have deposited the Fund in his personal account. My guess is that in his effort to protect the interest gained by the big amount of money, he withdrew it at the time the principal was about to be withdrawn and given out to the rightful claimants, with strict orders, for sure, from UNCC. I could be wrong, but who cares?

I’ll leave you now dear readers and co-claimants to make your own conclusions. Meanwhile, I continue to wait and hope for a glimpse of good news from the UNCC or from the Philippine government officials themselves. I wonder where Senator Blas Ople is?

 

Author: Freda Editha O. Contreras
Published on: July 4, 2000 

 

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