Thursday, August 13, 2009

Justice for Melissa Roxas, Justice for all victims of torture and other forms of human rights violations!

August 10, 2009

The United Against Torture Coalition (UATC)-Philippines demands the government to ensure prompt, thorough, impartial and effective investigation into the allegations of torture and ill-treatment by Melissa Roxas. Her testimonies are a prima facie evidence of torture committed by the members of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP). Melissa claimed that she was tortured to the brink of death by people she alleges to be military contribute further to the reigning climate of impunity in the Philippines of which widespread and persistent use of torture is a major component.

Five days after the United Nations Committee Against Torture (CAT) called the attention of the Arroyo administration regarding its dismal human rights record and expressed grave concern at the widespread use of torture by law enforcement officials, on May 19, 2009, Filipino-American activist Melissa Roxas and two Filipino companions John Edward Jandoc and Juanito Carabeo were abducted by about 15 armed men in civilian clothes and wearing ski masks or bonnets in Kapanikian, La Paz, Tarlac while resting from a survey she conducted in the villages for a future medical mission.

Melissa’s stories give credence to the opacity surrounding places of detention such as military camps or safe houses which create a situation of powerlessness and isolation that in turn encourages the captors to use torture on their victims or detainees. Melissa claimed that she was subjected to various forms of torture such as systematic beatings, threatening her with bodily harm and execution, prolonged interrogation, food deprivation and “dry submarine” wherein a plastic bag was put over head to simulate drowning and caused her to suffocate. Her interrogators kept forcing her to admit that she is an NPA member and to supply information on them.

Based on her submitted affidavit and her testimonies both at the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) and House Committee on Human Rights, there is no denying that Melissa Roxas is a victim of arbitrary detention and torture. But the question remains: by whom and why? The AFP of course denied that, just as it has denied the hundreds of victims of arbitrary detention, torture and extra-judicial killings over the last few years. The military dismissed Melissa’s allegations as baseless and untrue. As far as they were concerned, it never happened. It claims that either Melissa manufactured the case or somebody else. The military’s response fits the outdated strategy of blaming the victims and focusing on the NPA’s culpability on the abduction and torture of activists, suspected NPA rebels and their sympathizers. But the cover-ups and long tale of lies woven by the military are full of inconsistencies and devoid of any evidentiary value. If Melissa’s story was fabricated, she must be a very good liar, her account being too detailed, too graphic, and too consistent. She did not go on to say the obvious, in the sense that either the military is the liar or not a very good one at that.

The UATC has every reason to believe that the AFP is behind Melissa’s abduction and torture. She is an activist by her own declaration and confirmed by her affiliations. The brazenness and viciousness by which she and her companions were abducted and detailed accounts of Melissa’s ordeal indicate that her abduction and torture were at the acquiescence of State officials.

The tandem of rabid anti-communist party-list representatives namely the notorious human rights violator, retired General Jovito Palparan now Bantay party-list representative, and Pastor “Jun” Alcover, Jr. of Alliance for Nationalism and Democracy or ANAD party-list averred that Melissa is an NPA member as shown by the video and photos they distributed to the media at a press conference. It is hard to buy the Palparan-Alcover "theory" (now adopted by the AFP) since it is riddled with confusing claims and because of their questionable credibility. They say that the video and photos proves Melissa is an NPA member when the authenticity and the source of the video and photos needs to be verified and is still very much open to question. Melissa testified that during her interrogation her captors showed her photos of a woman in an alleged NPA camp. They tortured her to make her to admit that she was that woman but she repeatedly refused. And assuming that what the military says is true the woman in the video and photos is indeed Melissa Roxas, does that constitute substantial proof that she is an NPA member? And if proven she is an NPA member, does that give the military the authority to subject her to torture?

The UATC emphasized that the real issue was not about who Melissa was, but the arbitrary abduction and torture that she went through at the hands of her abductors. Melissa who has returned from the United States to testify against her tormentors is not easy to do since she is aware of the risks to life and limb that are involved in pursuing her case against the AFP. It is a brave thing she is doing, one that should have a profound and lasting impact on ending the repression and breaking the culture of impunity in the country. We all know that the consequences of torture can affect the survivor on many levels from physical, psychological, emotional to behavioral. And trauma is the hardest thing to deal with. The courage she has shown is infused with inspiration. Melissa’s courage and determination to stand up for the truth and justice is worth emulating in these times of lies and injustice.

Justice for Melissa Roxas!
Justice for all victims of torture and other forms of human rights violations!

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