CHR reso on Melissa Roxas practically clears AFP of abduction and torture

Posted: April 24, 2011 in Human Rights, Socio-Political
Tags: , ,

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. ###

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