Posts Tagged ‘melissa roxas’

At least four US embassy cables from Manila dealt with the US response to the abduction of an American citizen and activist Melissa Roxas. All were marked confidential and were cleared by US ambassador Kristie Kenney.

Roxas, a member of Bayan-USA, reported that she was abducted by bonnet-clad armed men in La Paz town in Tarlac, Philippines on May 19, 2009 and held in what she believed to be a military camp. She was later surfaced in May 25. Throughout her captivity, Roxas was blindfolded, but could hear distinct sounds of what she believed to be an airstrip and a firing range. She testified before Philippine courts and human rights bodies that she was tortured into admitting she was a member of the New People’s Army.

Before leaving the Philippines, Roxas filed a petition for a writ of amparo before the Philippine Supreme Court to get protection against the state security forces of Gloria Macapagal Arroyo. The high court gave the petition due course and referred it to the Court of Appeals for hearing.

Roxas eventually returned to the Philippines that year to testify before the Court of the Appeals, the Commission on Human Rights, and the House Committee on Human Rights.

The abduction of an American activist was the first of its kind ever documented under the regime of Gloria Macapagal Arroyo. Her nine-year term was marked by hundreds of extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances that gained much international attention.

The four embassy cables on Melissa Roxas dealt mainly with the US embassy’s actions on the incident and the Philippine government’s response. The US embassy pressed the Philippine government several times on the Roxas abduction, saying that the embassy gives importance to the safety and security of American citizens.

The embassy however was wary that groups like Bayan and its overseas chapter Bayan-US would use the abduction issue to highlight other human rights abuses in the country and to draw a link between these abuses and US military aid to the Armed Forces of the Philippines.

This was articulated by US ambassador Kristie Kenney who wrote in the a confidential June 29, 2009  cable that Bayan was using the incident ”in an attempt to draw connections between U.S. military aid and human rights abuses by Philippine forces, with the apparent goal of ending U.S. financial support for the Philippine military altogether”.

The Philippines is the biggest recipient of US military aid in Southeast Asia. The amount significantly increased after the 9-11 attacks when the Philippines was designated as the “second front” in the “war on terror”.

The embassy noted the Philippine government’s initial response to the incident, which was to altogether deny any involvement in the abduction and torture. A lawyer from the Philippine Office of the Solicitor General even described the incident a “stage-managed event to achieve spectacular and theatrical results to damage the reputation of the Philippine government and earn political capital.”

In another confidential cable dated July 24, 2009, the US embassy expressed concern that “the highly publicized case has the potential to embarrass President Arroyo in advance of the July 27 State of the Nation Address — the last of her presidency — and her highly anticipated July 30 meeting with President Obama, which will be followed by a meeting with U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder”.

The embassy also noted the seeming difficulties of US authorities in obtaining information from Roxas. The cable even insinuated inconsistency on the part of Roxas when she cited emotional distress as a reason for not dealing with the FBI, while showing “emotional fearlessness” in returning to the Philippines to face human rights investigations. This assessment of course is not accurate. Those who were in close contact with Roxas during her return are familiar with the emotional stress she experienced while recounting her ordeal in public hearings and in open court, all under close scrutiny by the media.

The last cable, dated August 2009, took note of the allegations made by then partylist representative Jovito Palparan who claimed that Roxas was a member of the New People’s Army who trained in the countryside.

“Whether or not Palparan’s allegations of Roxas’ NPA ties turn out to be true, the Mission has continued to echo CHR statements that Ms. Roxas’s political affiliations are irrelevant to a full investigation of her alleged kidnapping and torture. As the truth of Ms. Roxas’ experiences continues to unfold, the Mission will remain closely apprised of developments in the case and report significant developments to Washington”.

In various public hearings, Roxas vehemently denied Palparan’s allegations. It should be also noted that allegations by the likes of Palparan that Roxas is an NPA actually provides a clear motive for the AFP for abducting her. However, Palparan and his cohort in ANAD Jun Alcover insist that Roxas was abducted by the NPA and not by the AFP.  This assertion of Palparan is not supported by any evidence and runs counter to the credible testimony of Roxas that while she was in captivity, she was forced to confess to membership with the NPA and asked to return to the folds of the law. If she was indeed abducted by the NPA, why was she being tortured to admit membership and to return to the fold of the law?

To date, no one has been made accountable for the abduction of Roxas. The US embassy appeared to have gone through the motions of inquiring about the incident, monitoring the news, and expressing concern over the issue. Most of the embassy comments in the cables dealt with the possible negative media attention that the incident would generate.

The Supreme Court has tasked the Commission on Human Rights to undertake further investigation of the case. A recent CHR report practically cleared the AFP of involvement in the abduction and raised the possibility that Roxas was abducted by the NPA.

Roxas continues to fight for justice, this time in arenas outside the Philippines. ###

Melissa testifies before the House of Representatives. Photo from Bulatlat.com

Last Wednesday, I found on my desk a mail from the Commission on Human Rights. It was a certified true copy of the CHR’s resolution on Melissa Roxas’ complaint of abduction and torture against the AFP. It’s been nearly two years since the incident happened. The resolution was dated February 14 but we only received the mail April 19.

Roxas, a member of Habi-Arts and BAYAN’s United States chapter, was abducted in La Paz, Tarlac on May 19, 2009 along with John Edward Jandoc and Juanito Carabeo. She was held for several days and subjected to various forms of torture and forced to sign a document stating that she was a member of the New People’s Army.

I was however aghast at what I read in the resolution. The CHR practically cleared the AFP in the abduction and torture. Worse, it said that the NPA may have been involved in the human rights violations against Melissa.

Download Melissa’s affidavit here.

Download CHR Resolution here.

On allegations of torture

In its findings, the CHR said that there is insufficient evidence to support the claim of torture because there was not enough evidence to determine the identities of the abductors. The CHR says torture includes “the elements of State party and agents”. So if you can’t prove soldiers did it, then it’s not torture, they say.

“In the light of the lack of evidence against the persons who inflicted the physical and psychological maltreatment on the complainant, it is not possible for the Commission to reach any findings on torture, the definition of which includes elements of State party or agent and certain intentions, purposes and motivations,” the CHR resolution said.

“There is, however enough evidence to find that complainant has suffered cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment or punishment by persons unknown,” the CHR added.

So as far as the CHR is concerned, there are no conclusive findings that Melissa was tortured but it did say that she suffered cruel inhumane and degrading treatment. It also agreed that the injuries of Melissa were not self-inflicted and that her abduction was not “stage-managed” as some in the AFP claim. But alas, these findings are already known to the public and those familiar with the case.

Accountability

The real question now is who did it and what was the motive for the torture and abduction?

“As regards the complainant’s belief and allegations that members of the Armed Forces of the Philippines forcibly took Melissa Roxas and companions from Mr. Paulo’s house in Tarlac on May 19, held her in captivity and subjected her to physical and mental maltreatment: there is insufficient evidence to support this conclusion, and insufficient evidence to pinpoint individual members of the AFP as the possible or probable perpetrators,”

The CHR has received information that indicates the possibility that members of the NPA committed the kidnapping and other human rights violations on Roxas et al. These sources have been found to be credible (underscoring supplied). However, no specific names of individuals have been provided to the CHR, thus the Commission, with its limited resources, is unable to further follow up and identify specific persons as the possible perpetrators,” the report said.

The report also said that “given the findings that present strong indication of involvement of the members of the New People’s Army as the perpetrators of the human rights violations against the complainant, there is a need to remind the parties of …the Comprehensive Agreement on Respect for Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law” which was signed by the Philippine government and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines.

These statements are simply gratuitous, illogical and unsubstantiated. How can the CHR give credibility to sources pointing to the NPA’s involvement yet offer no evidence, detail, let alone motive for Melissa’s alleged abduction by the NPA?

NPA involvement?

The CHR practically clears the AFP by leading the public to believe the NPA may have abducted Melissa, without even presenting a shred of evidence and with total disregard for the detailed testimony of the victim.

The “NPA abduction theory” is quite incredulous if you review Melissa’s affidavit executed just days after her release from detention.

The line of questioning by Melissa’s captors during her detention and torture make it illogical to pin the blame on the NPA. The line of questioning was consistent with that of the military when they interrogate leftist activists suspected of being members of the NPA.

In her own account of her detention, Melissa was forced to sign a document saying she was a member of the NPA and was repeatedly asked to return to the fold of the law. She was asked how she got involved in Bayan USA and was lectured on anti-communism and religion as the CHR report admits. She was also told she was on the “order of battle”. She was only released when she played along with her captors’ demand that she will reform and end her involvement in the movement.

With these details, how can the CHR even consider and give weight  to the unsubstantiated claims that Melissa was abducted and tortured by the NPA? It defies logic. What motive does the NPA have to abduct her and force her to admit she’s a member of the NPA? Why would the NPA torture her to make her return to the fold of the law? It simply doesn’t make sense.

Unless the CHR thinks Melissa is not telling the truth in her affidavit.  But what motive does Melissa have for making up stories?

In her testimony, Roxas said that while in detention, she got a glimpse of a man wearing fatigue uniform, heard gunfire as if in a firing range, and heard the sound of aircraft as if near an airport or landing strip. She also said she was confined in a facility that appeared to be a barracks that had iron bars. She also said that she was moved from buildings in a compound.

Aren’t these facilities NPA facilities or AFP facilities? Unless the CHR thinks the NPA now has airstrips and firing ranges, the reasonable thing to do is to probe deeper into the involvement o the AFP.

Isn’t it the AFP who has the clear motive for abducting Melissa, because of her leftist involvement? Hence she was forced to admit membership in the NPA, forced to relate her involvement in Bayan USA. Her interogators told her that it was people like her “that was costing the government money and making it difficullt for government.”

The CHR reso makes a big deal about so-called non-state actors involved in Melissa’s abduction yet offers not a single piece of evidence to back this up. It should have pursued leads as to the AFP’s involvement instead of washing its hands and saying it does not have manpower or resources to investigate.

The CHR said it did not have enough time to inspect the entirety of Fort Magsaysay and that their visits were rarely unhampered by the military. It also said that the victim’s visit to the place to recall her detention was “inconclusive”. If this was the case, why rule out the possibility that Melissa was indeed taken to Fort Magsaysay? Why not complete the investigaation of the site?

One of the interesting revelations from the probe initiated by former CHR chair Leila de Lima was the source of a book given to Melissa by her captors. The book’s serial number or barcode was traced to a National Bookstore outlet in Cabanatuan, Nueva Ecija. It was purchased during Melissa’s detention. Fort Magsaysay is also in Nueva Ecija. Mere coincidence? Not likely.

The AFP’s alibi that human rights violations against leftists were the handiwork of the NPA has already been discredited years ago. The line that the NPA did the human rights violations against leftist activists has long been discredited. It was rejected by the Melo Commission and by the UN special rapporteur on extrajudicial killings Philip Alston. It is a surprise that the CHR again resurrects this worn out and discredited line. It’s an injustice to Melissa and other victims of torture who are unable to identify their torturers hidden in the shadows.

After practically clearing the AFP of liability, the CHR also “reminded” the Philippine government and the NDFP of their responsibility under the CAHRIHL.

The CHR report on Melissa’s case is a far cry from an earlier report on Jonas Burgos wherein a member of the AFP was identified as one of the perpetrators. Why the CHR came up with this sloppy, unsubtantiated and illogical report, we can only speculate. I personally don’t think that was the direction and outcome of the investigation initiated by the former CHR chair. Her insights on the resolution would probably be sought out by the media as well.

We can understand if the CHR lacks manpower and resources to conduct a thorough probe. Add to this the refusal of the AFP to even cooperate with any investigation related to human rights. What we do not understand, and cannot accept, is the CHR practically absolving the AFP and pointing the blame somewhere else, when clearly it should not be the case.

So what happens now? The CHR has passed on the responsibility of probing the case to the PNP and NBI since they supposedly have the mandate and resources.

So nearly two years after the CHR initiated a probe, this is what they come out with. If this will not be rectified, justice will remain elusive for Melissa and dimmer still for other victims of abduction and torture by the AFP. ###