Tag: VFA

Lightning rally strikes Arroyo visit to Los Angeles. Thunderous outcry from Fil-Ams: ‘No to Con-Ass, No to Cha-Cha. Gloria has got to go.’

Contact: Rhonda Ramiro
Secretary General, BAYAN-USA
secgen@bayanusa.org

Los Angeles, CA — On early Saturday morning, Filipino Americans launched a lightning rally to greet Philippine President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and her mini-junket at the Sheraton Gateway near Los Angeles International Airport. The lightning rally was one of many demonstrations across the Philippines and around the world in recent days to protest the passage of the House Resolution 1109 to convene a Constituent Assembly (Con-Ass), considered the latest move of the US-Arroyo regime to change the Philippine Charter (Cha Cha) and further undermine democracy in the Philippines.

BAYAN-USA & GABRIELA USA’s member organizations began the lightning rally, marching to a rendition of “Bayan Ko” carrying “No to Con-Ass” and “No to Cha-Cha” signs, AnakBayan LA, Habi Arts and Sisters of GABRIELA Awaken (SiGAw) members expressed their anger at the US-Arroyo regime’s desperate Con-Ass maneuver to hold on to power. Fil-Ams were also demanding justice for fellow Habi Arts member, Melissa Roxas, a US Citizen who was abducted and tortured by armed men last May while doing community health work in the Philippines. A street theater piece highlighting the on-going human rights violations was dedicated to Roxas, Jonas Burgos, Karen Empeno, Sherlyn Kadapan, James Balao, Juanito Carabeo, John Edward Jandoc and all other victims of the US-Arroyo regime. With a thunderous outcry denouncing Arroyo, the protestors drowned out the cheers of US-Arroyo supporters as Arroyo was escorted back to LAX. The morning rally was concluded with an “Arroyo, You’re A Jerk” hip hop dance circle led by AnakBayan Los Angeles.

“Con-Ass and Charter Change are lame attempts for Arroyo and her cronies to stay in power. They all hoped that the Filipino people would not care enough to notice, but the public outcry of our people in the Philippines, the US and all over the world prove that the people are wise and keen on her trickery,” declared Daya Mortel, BAYAN-USA Southern California Regional Coordinator and Habi Arts member. “She has tried every trick in the book short of declaring Martial Law. Wherever she may go, there will be people who will protest and criticize her abuse of power.”

“Con-Ass is the biggest threat to democracy and the Filipino people today,” stated Kuusela Hilo, Vice Chairperson of BAYAN-USA and member of AnakBayan LA. “The Filipino people have suffered under the US-Arroyo regime, and for Arroyo to position herself as Prime Minister or declare martial law would only mean more suffering and repression for our people.”

The rapes of “Nicole” and “Vanessa” and the devastation wrought on civilians by the annual Balikatan military exercises under the Visiting Forces Agreement have drawn increasing criticism from all sectors of Philippine society. “GMA has turned her back on Filipina women and all other Filipinos by railroading our Constitution and the democratic process. If Con-Ass and Cha-Cha are pushed through, foreigners will be able to own the natural resources of the country and Filipinas will continue to be violated by US troops in the Philippines,” said Terrie Cervas, Vice Chairperson of GABRIELA USA and founding member of SiGAw. Cervas concluded, “By rewriting the Philippine Constitution, the Philippines will be victim to 100% foreign ownership of industries and re-installation of permanent military US presence, beyond supposed ‘temporary’ posts already in place under the Visiting Forces Agreement.” For the last ten years, the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) has paved the way for US military advisers, troops and equipment to train and equip the Philippine military which has been implicated in 1,017 extra-judicial killings and 1,010 cases of torture.

“The fact that Arroyo tried to visit LA unnoticed is very telling,” said Mortel. “She knew she could not come to LA, the hometown of Melissa Roxas, without facing unanswered questions of why her government has not done a thorough probe into the abduction and torture of Roxas and her companions. Or why hundreds of others have been disappeared and why thousands of other victims have yet to receive justice.”

BAYAN-USA will continue to campaign against Con-Ass and Cha-Cha. BAYAN-USA will also be working with national alliances and human rights organizations in the United States to demand justice for Melissa Roxas and all other victims of human rights violations. “We do not want any of our hard-earned US tax dollars funding Philippine death squads,” said Hilo. “Senator Barbara Boxer sponsored a hearing on the human rights crisis in the Philippines just two years ago in Washington DC, and we will be asking Senator Boxer and other elected officials to take Melissa Roxas’ case seriously, to take a stand to defend a US citizen that has survived abduction and torture, and to require that not one cent of US taxes be used to fund human rights violations in the Philippines.”

BAYAN-USA is an alliance of progressive Filipino groups in the US representing organizations of students, scholars, women, workers, and youth. As an international chapter of Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (BAYAN-Philippines), BAYAN-USA serves as an information bureau for the national democratic movement of the Philippines and as a campaign center for anti-imperialist Filipinos in the US. BAYAN-USA’s online petition against the VFA can be found at http://www.ipetitions.com/petition/JunkVFAnow. The online petition to demand justice for Roxas and her companions Juanito Carabeo, and John Edward Jandoc can be found at http://www.gopetition.com/online/28021.html.

US-trained and funded Philippine military implicated in abduction and torture of American citizen: Alliance of Filipino American organizations vows to hold US and Philippine governments accountable and demands end to US taxpayer support for Philippine military

Contact: Rhonda Ramiro
Secretary General, BAYAN-USA
secgen@bayanusa.org

The US Chapter of Bagong Alyansang Makabayan, or BAYAN-USA, denounced the abduction and torture of Melissa Roxas by suspected elements of the Armed Forces of the Philippines.  An American citizen of Filipino descent, Roxas is a well-known Filipino American human rights advocate and was BAYAN-USA’s first Regional Coordinator in Los Angeles, CA and a founding member of the Los Angeles-based cultural organization Habi Arts.  Roxas’ sworn affidavit about the torture she experienced from May 19-25, 2009 while in captivity was made public today when she filed a Petition for a Writ of Amparo and Habeus Data with the Philippine Supreme Court, seeking protection from further harm for herself and her family.

In the affidavit, Roxas describes being abducted by approximately 15 armed men, thrown in a van, handcuffed and blindfolded for six days, and dragged from jail cell to jail cell.  She recounts being subjected to torture via asphyxiation using a doubled-up plastic bag, repeated beatings to the face and body, and having her head banged repeatedly against the wall by her interrogators. Roxas said that one interrogator stated those who tortured her were from the Special Operations Group (SOG), and she heard one of her interrogators addressed as “Sir.” She also heard gunfire from what she believed to be a firing range as well as the sounds of aircraft, pointing to the high probability that she was held in a military camp.  She was denied legal counsel despite her persistent requests and forced to say that she was a member of the New People’s Army.

Roxas was dropped off near her relative’s house around 6:30 AM on May 25. Her captors left her with a SIM card and phone, which one of her interrogators used to contact her after she was released.

“We are distraught that Melissa was subjected to such cruel, inhuman, and blatantly illegal treatment as a result of the Philippine government’s counter-insurgency witch hunt,” stated BAYAN-USA Chair Berna Ellorin.  “We must hold the perpetrators of this torture accountable, up to and including the US government which is providing military aid and training to the Philippine military.”

Rather than conducting an investigation into the torture of Roxas and the abduction of her and her companions Juanito Carabeo and John Edward Jandoc, the Philippine Presidential Human Rights Commission (PHRC) issued a statement claiming that the incident was fabricated by BAYAN Philippines and human rights group Karapatan, and that the disappearance of the three involved immersion with the New People’s Army (NPA). The statement from the PHRC was posted on the website of the Philippine Embassy in Washington DC on May 28, 2009.   Evidence such as official police reports clearly show that the statement was filled with serious factual errors and erroneous speculations; the PHRC statement even falsely cited the non-governmental organizations Asian Federation Against Disappearances (AFAD) and Coalition Against Involuntary Disappearances (CAID).  In an open letter to Philippine Ambassador to the US Willy Gaa regarding the PHRC statement, AFAD wrote,

“Our Federation is shocked by the content of the said statement, citing us as one of the sources of the information related to the above-mentioned case.  We categorically deny ownership of the information mentioned in the statement as a source of our alleged initial investigation…We find it appalling to be considered as a more credible human rights organization compared to Karapatan, since we believe that such a statement is divisive and therefore, uncalled for…  While our Federation independently works on the issue of enforced disappearances and despite our differences with other organizations, we also coordinate with the CAID as well as with Karapatan, whose constituency bears the brunt of enforced disappearances and extrajudicial killings during the present administration.”

Despite the public outcry for a retraction of the statement, the Philippine Embassy has yet to remove the statement from its website.

“We are incensed that the Philippine government continues to deny that Melissa’s abduction ever took place,” said Ellorin. “The Philippine government’s attempted cover-up of the triple abduction is consistent with their constant denial of responsibility for the more than 1,000 extra-judicial killings and 201 enforced disappearances, despite condemnation and documentation from international human rights groups like Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, as well as the United Nations,” said Ellorin.  “The tactic of red-baiting and vilification of the victim by Philippine authorities, now also being employed against Melissa, is a common finding in the numerous reports written by international human rights monitoring agencies.”

Roxas’ exposé comes on the heels of the visit of US Defense Secretary Robert Gates to the Philippines. During his meetings with Philippine Defense Secretary Gilberto Teodoro, Gates affirmed the Obama administration’s commitment to so-called “counter-terrorism efforts” in the Philippines as well as for the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA). The VFA is an agreement which BAYAN-USA views as the red carpet which paved the way for US military advisers, troops and equipment to train and equip the Philippine military which has been implicated in 1,017 extra-judicial killings and 1,010 cases of torture.

“The torture of Melissa and the triple abduction of Melissa, Juanito and John Edward are directly linked to the VFA and US military aid to the Philippines,” said Ellorin.  “The US government cannot claim ignorance or wash its hands of responsibility, when it is US advisors who are training the Philippine military.  The recent uncovering of ‘the torture papers’ shows that the US has never stopped employing torture as an ‘enhanced interrogation technique.’”

“It is utterly apalling that Gates is pledging more support for the Philippine military, in light of Melissa’s sworn testimony,” continued Ellorin.  “Her abduction should give Congress and the Obama administration even more reason to stop pouring billions of dollars into a regime that abducts, tortures, and kills innocent people.  If the Obama administration and Congress are serious about creating real change, they should cut off all aid to the Philippines during the budget appropriations process this summer.”

BAYAN-USA is an alliance of progressive Filipino groups in the US representing organizations of students, scholars, women, workers, and youth. As an international chapter of Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (BAYAN-Philippines), BAYAN-USA serves as an information bureau for the national democratic movement of the Philippines and as a campaign center for anti-imperialist Filipinos in the US.  BAYAN-USA’s online petition against the VFA can be found at http://www.ipetitions.com/petition/JunkVFAnow.  The online petition to demand justice for Roxas, Carabeo, and Handoc can be found at http://www.gopetition.com/online/28021.html.

10 years too long, 200 people too many: Filipinos across the US call for the termination of the Visiting Forces Agreement and justice for the disappeared

Contact: Rhonda Ramiro
Secretary-General, BAYAN USA
secgen@bayanusa.org

In the wake of the abduction of Filipino American human rights advocate and health worker Melissa Roxas and her companions Juanito Carabeo and John Edward Handoc one week ago in the Philippines, BAYAN-USA launches actions against the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) today, the 10th anniversary of the VFA’s ratification.  BAYAN-USA demands the termination of the VFA and justice for victims of abduction and all human rights violations, which have climbed to record levels in the Philippines since the VFA was ratified on May 27, 1999.

“Human rights violations have escalated to unprecedented heights since 2001, when Gloria Macapagal Arroyo became president and the U.S. launched its ‘war on terror.’  It is no coincidence that the Visiting Forces Agreement was ratified just two years earlier in 1999,” stated BAYAN-USA Secretary General Rhonda Ramiro.  “The VFA paved the way for U.S. military advisers, troops and equipment to flood the Philippines and to train and equip the Philippine military which has been implicated in 1,017 extra-judicial killings and 1,010 cases of torture.  Melissa’s abduction adds an American citizen to the list of over 200 victims of enforced disappearance under Arroyo.”

Roxas, Carabeo, and Handoc, all members of a volunteer health worker team preparing for a medical mission in La Paz, Tarlac, Philippines, were reportedly abducted at gunpoint on May 19 by at least eight heavily-armed masked men riding motorcycles and in a van without license plates.  The circumstances of their abduction typify the pattern of dozens of politically-motivated abductions of activists critical of the Arroyo administration, and evidence points to the military as responsible for these acts.  Roxas and Carabeo were officially surfaced on May 24 and 25, respectively; unconfirmed reports of Handoc’s surfacing were received as of the writing of this statement.  Because the vast majority of abductions and enforced disappearances remain unresolved, BAYAN-USA believes their surfacing was a direct result of rapid community response and an international campaign by BAYAN Philippines, BAYAN-USA, and the human rights organization Karapatan.

“While we are elated that Melissa and Juanito have surfaced and that John Edward might also have been found, we are outraged that they were even abducted in the first place,” said Ramiro.  “We call for justice for all three, including a full investigation and prosecution of the abductors.”

“The abduction of Melissa, Juanito and John Edward is directly linked to the VFA and U.S. military aid to the Philippines,” continued Ramiro.  “The U.S. government cannot claim ignorance or wash its hands of responsibility, when it is U.S. advisors who are training the Philippine military, U.S. aid that is funding the military training, and U.S. guns and bullets that are being used to threaten and kill innocent civilians.”

BAYAN-USA claims that despite its rhetoric of “change,” the administration of President Barack Obama has clung to Bush’s foreign policy when it comes to the Philippines.  Earlier this year, President Obama phoned Philippine President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo to express support for the VFA and continuing the annual joint military exercises known as “Balikatan” (“Shoulder-to-Shoulder”).   The estimated total expense borne by U.S. taxpayers for U.S. militarization in the Philippines since the VFA was enacted in 1999 is a lofty $1 billion.  An additional $660 million—up from a reported $400 million just one month ago—is reportedly set to be granted to the Philippines in the coming year.

The VFA also provides justification for the basing of U.S. troops throughout the country, in what is widely perceived as an affront to national sovereignty.  Moreover, witnesses have observed U.S. troops participating in combat operations, which is in violation of the VFA itself.  In the months of February-May this year alone, the “Balikatan” exercises also led directly to the killing of a young girl and wounding of four more children, the rape of 22 year old Filipina “Vanessa,” and the forced displacement of tens of thousands of residents in Bicol where the exercises were held.  No one was held responsible for the killing of the child, and although there was clear evidence that “Vanessa” was raped by a U.S. marine, she refrained from pressing charges because she did not believe she could obtain justice.  “Vanessa’s” rape was committed just weeks after the acquittal of U.S. Marine Daniel Smith, who was the only American ever convicted of raping a Filipina despite reports of thousands of rapes committed by U.S. military personnel.

“The VFA fosters a culture of militarization and violence, and both the U.S. and Philippine military are guilty of committing human rights violations with impunity,” stated Ramiro.  “Melissa’s abduction should give Congress and the Obama administration even more impetus to terminate the VFA and stop pouring billions of dollars into a regime that abducts and kills innocent people.  In the face of a budget deficit in the trillions, it is unconscionable to continue providing aid to the Arroyo government and to perpetuate the costly VFA.  Congress should cut both during the budget appropriations process this spring and summer.”

BAYAN-USA is an alliance of progressive Filipino groups in the U.S. representing organizations of students, scholars, women, workers, and youth. As an international chapter of Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (BAYAN-Philippines), BAYAN-USA serves as an information bureau for the national democratic movement of the Philippines and as a campaign center for anti-imperialist Filipinos in the U.S.  BAYAN-USA’s online petition against the VFA can be found at http://www.ipetitions.com/petition/JunkVFAnow.  The online petition to demand justice for Roxas, Carabeo, and Handoc can be found at http://www.gopetition.com/online/28021.html.

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Actions being held in the US

Los Angeles
Vigil in front of the Philippine Consulate
Wednesday, May 27, 2009, 7:30 PM
3600 Wilshire Blvd. (between S Harvard Blvd and S Kingsley Dr)
Los Angeles, CA 90010

New York
Rally at the Philippine Consulate and march to Military Recruitment Center
Wednesday, May 27, 2009, 5:30 PM
556 Fifth Ave.
New York, NY 10036

San Francisco
Action and meeting with the Philippine Consulate
Wednesday, May 27, 2009, 4:00 PM
447 Sutter St.
San Francisco, CA 94108

Teach-in on the VFA
Wednesday, May 27, 2009, 6:00-8:00 PM
At South of Market Community Action Center
1070 Howard St.
San Francisco, CA 94103

Seattle
Visiting Forces Agreement teach-In
Thursday, March 28, 6:30-8:30 PM
Filipino Community Center
5740 Martin Luther King Jr. Way
Seattle, WA 98118

San Diego
“As If They Never Left” teach-in on the VFA
Thursday, May 28, 7:00-9:00 PM
At Filipino American Veterans Association Hall
2926 Market Street
San Diego, CA 92102

Melissa Roxas’ surfacing a victory of the people’s struggle but the search continues for Carabeo and Handoc

Contact: Rhonda Ramiro
Secretary-General, BAYAN USA
secgen@bayanusa.org

The US Chapter of Bagong Alyansang Makabayan, or BAYAN USA, an alliance of 14 Filipino social justice organizations across the United States, is elated to confirm that Filipina-American activist Melissa Roxas, 31, surfaced hours ago in Manila as of Sunday, May 24th. BAYAN USA confirmed this report with the human rights group Karapatan. A detailed account about the circumstances of her surfacing is still forthcoming.

“We are happy to hear about Melissa’s surfacing, but we are still concerned about the whereabouts of her two companions, Juanito Carabeo and John Edward Handoc, who were abducted along with Melissa on May 19th and are still missing to this day,” states BAYAN USA Chair Bernadette Ellorin. “We fully intend to pursue the demand for the surfacing of Carabeo and Handoc, as well as justice for Melissa. This abduction should never have taken place.”

Roxas, Carabeo, and Handoc, all members of a medical mission team in La Paz, Tarlac, were reportedly abducted at gunpoint by at least eight masked men in the middle of the night last week. Upon learning of Roxas, Carabeo, and Handoc’s enforced disappearance, BAYAN USA, along with BAYAN Philippines and Karapatan, exerted strong efforts calling for their immediate surfacing, including releasing an online petition addressed to US elected officials that gathered hundreds of signatures in a matter of hours.

“Because more than five days had passed since their abduction, we believe Melissa’s surfacing is a direct result of rapid community response and international pressure exerted from the Philippines and the United States first and foremost,” Ellorin continued. BAYAN USA in Southern California has also been working closely with Roxas’ family in Los Angeles in their campaign efforts to surface Roxas and her companions in the Philippines.

Roxas, a founding member of the cultural organization Habi-Arts in Los Angeles and founding Southern California Representative for BAYAN USA, went to the Philippines in 2007 to pursue human rights advocacy full-time. Her move was set amidst an acute human rights crisis in the Philippines that includes reports of rampant extrajudicial killings, enforced disappearances, illegal arrest, torture, and summary executions. In 2005, Roxas participated in an international fact-finding mission investigating human rights violations throughout the Philippines under the Arroyo administration.

On Wednesday, May 27th, BAYAN USA member organizations across the United States will be launching actions denouncing the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA), a military pact that allows for the basing of US military troops in over 20 ports throughout the Philippines. Included in these actions will be the call for justice for Melissa Roxas and for the immediate surfacing of Juanito Carabeo and John Edward Handoc. BAYAN USA firmly believes the continuing, unabated human rights violations committed by the Philippine military and death squads are generously funded by US military aid to the Arroyo government. BAYAN USA also ultimately holds the Arroyo government accountable for the pattern of killings and abductions against civilians critical of the regime since 2001.

“As we continue to campaign for justice for Melissa, Juanito, and John Edward, we are consciously raising awareness of the role of US tax dollars in funding these abductions and other human rights violations. There are hundreds more victims of politically-motivated abductions in the Philippines that are still missing to this day,” Ellorin ended. ###