Contact: Rhonda Ramiro
Secretary General, BAYAN-USA
US citizen abducted and tortured by suspected Philippine military agents returns to the Philippines to seek justice
SAN FRANCISCO, CA – Melissa Roxas, a US citizen abducted and tortured in the Philippines from May 19-25, left the United States today and traveled to the Philippines, where she will pursue her case against the Philippine government. “I am not doing this for myself,” stated Ms. Roxas 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.” Ms. Roxas, an American human rights advocate of Filipino descent, is the first known American citizen to have become a victim of abduction and torture during the administration of President Barack Obama while 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 Ms. 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.” Ms. Roxas’ Petition for Writ of Amparo and Habeus Data seeks protection for Ms. Roxas and her family, as well as the production of informational documents pertinent to her case and to allow the inspection of Fort Magsaysay where Ms. Roxas believes she was held captive and tortured.
To ensure her safety while traveling, Ms. Roxas is accompanied by a delegation of the California Nevada Conference of the United Methodist Church, Philippines Pastoral and Solidarity Visit. The solidarity delegation has been traveling to the Philippines annually since 2007, to respond to the reported extra-judicial killings taking place in the Philippines, 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 includes United Methodist Church Bishop Warner H. Brown. Before they passed through the airport gate leading to their flight this afternoon, the delegates joined hands in a circle with Ms. Roxas and said a prayer for safety, guidance and strength in their journey.
Ms. Roxas’ return to the Philippines comes just 11 days before President Obama will meet with Philippine President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo in Washington D.C. on July 30. To the dismay of many people in both the US and the Philippines, the agenda of the first state visit between the two countries currently omits the discussion of human rights violations, including the case of Ms. Roxas even though she is a US 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 continue to plague the Philippines and to specifically ensure that her government cooperates with the investigation into Ms. Roxas’ case.
In a sworn affidavit submitted to the Philippine Supreme Court, Ms. Roxas described being abducted at gunpoint by several heavily armed men, brought 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, Philippine-based human rights organization Karapatan, and Human Rights Watch have overwhelmingly concluded that the Philippine 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 been the vast majority of victims; Ms. 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.
The experience of Ms. Roxas is considered typical for the over 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 Ms. Roxas’ abduction and torture is also considered a typical response; in his 2007 report on the Philippines, UN 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 indicated 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.”
When she returns to the US, Ms. Roxas and the organizations working on the Justice for Melissa campaign will continue to pursue justice from this country, with actions which include national speaking appearances, media interviews about her ordeal, community mobilizations, and legal cases filed with the United Nations.
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.