Contact: Rhonda Ramiro
Secretary General, BAYAN-USA
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.