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. ###