Cal-Nev Delegation Escorts Torture Victim Back to Philippines

July 20, 2009

U.S. Citizen Melissa Roxas Returns to Seek Justice After Being Abducted and Tortured by Suspected Military Agents


SAN FRANCISCO, CA - Melissa Roxas, a U.S. citizen abducted and tortured in the Philippines in May, has returned there, escorted by the Philippines Pastoral and Solidarity team of the California-Nevada Annual Conference of The United Methodist Church.


Roxas intends to pursue her case against the Philippine government. "I am not doing this for myself," she stated at San Francisco Airport, shortly before boarding a plane bound for the Philippines. "The Philippine government must be held accountable for what they did to me and thousands of other victims of human rights violations." An American human rights advocate of Filipino descent, Roxas is the first known American citizen during the administration of President Barack Obama to have become a victim of abduction and torture in the Philippines - a country which has drawn international condemnation for state-sponsored human rights atrocities.


"I am returning to the Philippines to testify at a hearing for my Petition for Writ of Amparo and Habeus Data regarding my abduction and torture by the Philippine military," said Roxas. "Of course I am concerned about my safety. However, I decided to come back to the Philippines because of the promise of safety and security offered by the Chair of the Commission on Human Rights of the Philippines." Roxas' Petition for Writ of Amparo and Habeus Data seeks protection for her and her family, as well as the production of informational documents pertinent to her case, and to allow the inspection of Fort Magsaysay, where she believes she was held captive and tortured.


It was to ensure her safety while traveling that Roxas was accompanied by the California-Nevada delegation. The Conference's Philippines Solidarity Task Force has dispatched a delegation to the Philippines annually since 2007, to respond to the reported extra-judicial killings taking place there, along with other human rights abuses targeted against religious activists, educators, labor leaders, and students. The delegation visits families of victims in various regions of the Philippines, and an Advance Special offering has been established to help support the needs of surviving family members.


This year's delegation is headed by Bishop Warner H. Brown, Jr., Resident Bishop of the Conference, and includes the Rev. Linda Wiberg, Director of Connectional Ministries, the Rev. Felicisimo Cao, the Rev. Ruth Cortez, three students at Pacific School of Religion, and a San Francisco State student. Bishop Brown's wife, Mrs. Minnie Brown, also is a member of the delegation.


Before they passed through the airport gate leading to their flight on Sunday afternoon, the delegates joined hands in a circle with Ms. Roxas and said a prayer for safety, guidance, and strength in their journey.


Roxas' return to the Philippines comes just 11 days before President Obama will meet with Philippines President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo in Washington, D.C. To the dismay of many people in both the U.S. and the Philippines, the agenda of the first state visit between the two countries on July 30 currently omits the discussion of human rights violations, including the case of Ms. Roxas - even though she is a U.S. citizen. Representatives of churches, community organizations, labor unions, and other concerned groups are currently appealing to President Obama to live up to his declarations of "change," by asking President Arroyo what action she intends to take about the rampant human rights violations that they say continue to plague the Philippines, and to specifically ensure that her government cooperates with the investigation into Roxas' case.


In a sworn affidavit submitted to the Philippines Supreme Court, Roxas described being abducted at gunpoint by several heavily armed men, taken to what she believed is a military camp, held against her will, questioned without the presence of an attorney, beaten repeatedly, and asphyxiated using plastic bags, before being released. Reports by the United Nations, Amnesty International, Philippines-based human rights organization Karapatan, and Human Rights Watch have overwhelmingly concluded that the Philippines military is responsible for systematically carrying out human rights violations such as abduction, torture, and extra-judicial killings against innocent civilians. Human rights advocates and activists have comprised the vast majority of victims; Roxas, a member of Habi-Arts Los Angeles and the first Regional Coordinator of BAYAN-USA, was in the Philippines conducting human rights and community health work, as well as doing research for a writing project, when she was abducted and tortured.


Her experience is considered typical for the more than 200 cases of abduction and 1,036 cases of torture recorded since Gloria Macapagal Arroyo became president of the Philippines in 2001. The Philippine government's quick denial of responsibility for Roxas' abduction and torture is also considered a typical response; in his 2007 report on the Philippines, U.N. Special Rapporteur Philip Alston cited such systematic denial by the government as one of the primary obstacles to stopping the rampant human rights violations plaguing the country. In his 2009 follow-up report, Alston pointed to a general failure of the Arroyo government to stop the persistent human rights violations.


"We hail Melissa's courage to testify in court about the horrendous trauma she experienced at the hands of the Philippine military," stated Berna Ellorin, Chair of BAYAN-USA. "She will confront head-on the lies and denials of the Philippine government, and speak on behalf of the thousands of victims of human rights violations who are no longer able to speak for themselves."


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.


According to Bayan, "Roxas shed tears and was overcome with emotion upon entering the arrival area of the airport" at Manila today.


She was welcomed by a delegation led by the chairman of the Commission on Human Rights, Leila de Lima, and the chairman of the House Committee on Human Rights, Rep. Erin Tanada. Also present were Karapatan Secretary General Marie Enriquez, Bagong Alyansang Makabayan Renato Reyes, Jr. and partylist representatives Satur Ocampo, Liza Maza, Rafael Mariano, Luz Ilagan and Raymond Palatino, Editha Burgos of the group Desaparecidos, and Father Rex Reyes of the National Council of Churches of the Philippines.


"Roxas' return shows a serious intent to pursue her case. She is determined to seek justice for the human rights abuses committed against her and her companions, Juanito Carabeo and John Edward Handoc. She will face head on the denials made by the Armed Forces of the Philippines,"said Renato M. Reyes Jr., secretary-general of Bayan.


"We hail her courage in returning to the Philippines. Her determination to prove that she was abducted and tortured should put to rest claims by the military that the whole thing was fabricated," Reyes added.