COA flags memorial commission's lack of progress on martial law museum

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(Photo from the Human Rights Violations Victims' Memorial Commission showing the design of the Freedom Memorial Museum)

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, June 16) – State auditors said the commission mandated to establish a museum in honor of martial law victims should reevaluate its strategies after failing to build the Freedom Memorial Museum (FMM) initially expected to open in September.

In an annual audit report released Thursday, the Commission on Audit (COA) said the Human Rights Violations Victims' Memorial Commission (HRVVMC) “has not achieved much,” citing among others its failure to construct the museum – its flagship project – four years after receiving regular appropriations from the government.

In 2019, it was announced the museum will be put up in the University of the Philippines Diliman campus.

It was expected to be finished by September 2022, marking the 50th anniversary of the martial law declaration of former President Ferdinand E. Marcos, the father and namesake of the country's incoming leader, Ferdinand "Bongbong" Marcos Jr.

In September 2020, HRVVMC conducted the pre-procurement for the infrastructure works of the ₱460-million museum. COA noted the total costs are estimated at ₱540 million after an additional ₱80 million was incurred to free up the space intended for the FMM.

However, it took over 10 months for the agency to award the contract, or more than five months beyond the allowable timeline, according to state auditors.

“Up until this date, no single pillar has been built to gear up the construction of the FMM and the contract has now been scrapped/rescinded, and the mobilization fee has been returned by the contractor due to disagreements and delays of the contracting parties,” the report read.

COA added there is a scarcity of museum curators, affecting the agency’s methodology of collecting and storing items.

CNN Philippines is trying to get a comment from HRVVMC regarding these issues.

Meanwhile, auditors also said there was “misalignment” of the commission's projects and activities with the expected output and organizational outcome.

On this matter, HRVVMC explained that it had already raised concerns in 2018 that the output and outcome indicators determined by the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) are not the proper measures by which the commission should be evaluated, “considering it was starting from scratch and had no stable organization in existence.”

“It is the DBM, themselves, who says that, to reiterate, the output and outcome indicators will be applicable once the construction of the museum is completed. Therefore, the projects and activities of HRVVMC cannot be measured using these indicators alone,” HRVVMC contended, as stated in the COA report.

Aside from a regular budget, the commission has an appropriation of at least ₱500 million from the accrued interest of the ₱10 billion-fund which came from Marcos’ ill-gotten wealth in Switzerland and returned to the Philippine government through the decisions of the Swiss Federal Supreme Court and the Supreme Court of the Philippines, according to the HRVVMC website and the COA report.

Republic Act No. 10368 signed in 2013 by then-President Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III mandates the creation of a museum, memorial or library to commemorate victims and survivors of human rights violations during the Marcos regime.

According to international human rights group Amnesty International, around 70,000 people were imprisoned, 30,000 tortured, more than 3,000 killed, and hundreds disappeared during martial law.