Justice for Melissa Six-Year Anniversary and Call to Attend the International Peoples’ Tribunal from Habi Arts on Vimeo.

President Aquino,

My name is Melissa Roxas. In 2009, while conducting a medical survey in La Paz, Tarlac, I was abducted, illegally detained, and tortured for 6 days by the Philippine military. While I was eventually released, and have testified my case in the Philippine Courts, I have yet to see justice for myself and for countless other victims of human rights abuses by the Philippine military.

I am deeply concerned and disturbed over the continuing and vicious attacks on human rights activists.  Your administration’s counter-insurgency policy, Oplan Bayanihan, deliberately associates human rights defenders, activists and civilians as members or supporters of the revolutionary armed group New Peoples Army (NPA) and branded as “enemies of the State” or “terrorists.”  Your administration uses this as justification for illegal arrests based on trumped up charges, even extrajudicial killings, enforced disappearances, and torture.

My friend Brandon Lee and his fellow advocates for indigenous rights with Ifugao Peasant Movement and the Cordillera Peoples Alliance are currently targets of a ruthless political vilification campaign branding them as members of the NPA simply because they advocate for the rights of the poor.  They are being intensely surveilled and harassed by local elements of the Philippine military on a regular basis and because of this, fear for their lives.

I understand this situation far too well. I understand exactly how Brandon feels when he tells me he cannot sleep at night for fear of an attack on him and his family. This type of vilification is how your administration silences the people most critical of its policies and those working to improve the conditions of the most marginalized in the country.

Your administration should uphold and implement the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP), and various human rights treaties and instruments to which the Philippine government is a party and signatory.

I write this letter from the United States, where Brandon and I are from. I write this letter with our supporters around the world who stand with Brandon, and demand this vilification stop immediately.  We demand an end to the human rights violations.

For peace, justice, and human rights,

Melissa Roxas
Los Angeles, California

Dear President Obama,

I write to you, Mr. President Obama, on the five-year anniversary of my abduction and torture by the Armed Forces of the Philippines.  On May 19, 2009, while conducting health care work in the community of La Paz, Tarlac, Philippines, I was abducted by elements of the Armed Forces of the Philippines.

As a U.S. citizen, your recent trip to the Philippines deeply disturbed me, because while there are still no genuine steps being taken to address past and present human rights violations in the Philippines, your actions did nothing to help.  In fact, the signing of the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) between the U.S. and the Philippines made the situation in the Philippines worse.  EDCA is an unequal agreement in favor of the U.S. and in violation of the sovereignty of the Philippines.  Agreements like this, and the possible signing of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, embolden the already corrupt B.S. Aquino administration and worsen the human rights situation in the country.

Five years ago, I disappeared from those I love: the communities I dedicated my life to serve, my family, my friends, and my colleagues.  I was held in secret detention and tortured for six days inside the military camp of Fort Magsaysay in Nueva Ecija, residence of the 7th Infantry Division of the Philippine Army.

I was suffocated with plastic bags, my head was repeatedly banged against the concrete wall, and for six days I suffered other severe forms of torture that caused lasting physical injuries.  Every time I see the scars on my body, it reminds me of the torture I endured.

After I was surfaced, I requested the assistance of the U.S. Embassy in Manila.  Essentially the U.S. Embassy told me I was on my own.  I later found out that the U.S. Embassy’s portrayal of their correspondence with me after I was surfaced was inaccurate, as revealed by the three Wikileaks cables that came out in 2011.  The Chief of the American Citizens Service of the Embassy misreported that I was “in good physical condition.”  In fact, I had sustained physical injuries and suffered psychological trauma after the incident.  The Embassy also initially offered three options for me to provide more information about my case.  But when I took the option of having a representative come to my relative’s home because I felt unsafe to leave the house, they withdrew that option.  There was a lack of meaningful assistance given to me, and the U.S. Embassy abandoned their responsibility to me as a U.S. citizen.

Five years later, there is still no justice in my case nor the countless others, like Jonas Burgos, Sherlyn Cadapan, and Karen Empeno, who were all forcibly disappeared under the presidency of Arroyo.  No one has been prosecuted for these human rights abuses.  The Armed Forces of the Philippines—the very military that was involved in my abduction and torture and the torture of others—continues to receive funding and training from the U.S. government.  As a U.S. citizen, I don’t want my taxpayer dollars going towards funding the Philippine military that continues to commit heinous crimes against humanity.

Under President B.S. Aquino III’s administration, human rights violations continue with impunity.  Massive human rights violations are part of the counter-insurgency program Oplan Bayanihan and have caused displacement of peasants and indigenous peoples.

According to the human rights organization, Karapatan, in the last four years, there were 192 cases of extrajudicial killings; the majority of them were farmers, indigenous and environmental rights defenders.  They also reported there are 489 political prisoners—a majority of whom were abducted and detained on fabricated charges.  Nearly 40,000 people have been internally displaced, and 134,110 individuals affected due to the illegal use of schools, homes, hospitals and places of worship for military purposes.

Through war, the U.S. acquired the Philippines as a colony and occupied it for the first half of the twentieth century.  Since then, the United States has enjoyed an unequal relationship with the Philippines—using the country as its colonial and now neo-colonial outpost to advance U.S. hegemony in the Asia Pacific region.  Despite rhetoric about “cooperation,” “friendship” and “partnership,” the U.S. has shown no interest in genuinely addressing the problems of the Philippines and instead advances the economic and political interests of the elite of the United States and the rich few in the Philippines who benefit from the inequities.

Often, as the leaders of nation-states like the Philippines and United States determine the fate of their people, they do so in disregard to the everyday struggles of workers, peasants, the various indigenous groups, women, youth and students in the Philippines.  Within these communities, massive human rights violations are committed and compounded with increased militarization.

One such area is near Davao, Mindanao, where the peace-loving, indigenous Talaingod Monobos were uprooted from their lands by an overzealous military trying to push them from their ancestral lands to make way for illegal mining and logging operations.

This past April 2, 2014, over three hundred Talaingod Manobo families had to flee their homes because of military bombings and occupation of their villages.  Some families were forced to starve because they were prevented from going to their farms by the military.  A twelve-day old boy died during the evacuation.  His mother cried in silence as they escaped the military.  The boy’s father buried him by digging a shallow grave with his bare hands and a bolo.  A newborn baby was not given the chance to live and his family was driven away from their home.

The brutality of the Philippine military knows no bounds—they intentionally damaged the corn and rice mill that the Manobos rely on for food and their livelihood.  In a household in another village, a soldier excreted feces into their cooking pot meant for rice and boiling water.

The Manobo tribes have suffered a long history of human rights violations perpetrated by the military—including harassment, destruction of farms and killings.  Stationing U.S. troops and equipment permanently in the Philippines under the new EDCA will further exacerbate the militarization of communities like the Manobos.  There should be a permanent withdrawal of the Philippine military from their areas and a stop to U.S.-designed and funded Oplan Bayanihan.  These atrocities have to stop.

The U.S. cannot conscionably and legally continue to provide training and equipment to the Armed Forces of the Philippines knowing they commit crimes against humanity.  Providing U.S. military aid to the Philippines is in violation of existing U.S. laws.  The Arms Export Control Act, the Leahy Law and the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961 state that no funding should be provided to foreign security forces where the United States has knowledge that they have committed “gross violations of human rights.”

You said in your first presidential victory speech on November 7, 2012 that “I have always believed that hope is that stubborn thing inside us that insists, despite all the evidence to the contrary, that something better awaits us so long as we have the courage to keep reaching, to keep working, to keep fighting.”

People all over the world want the same things that we want here in the U.S.  They want the same things that you want as a man, as a father, as a leader of a nation—to live in a world of freedom and peace.  They cling to that hope that one day they will achieve it, and they are willing to do what they can to keep fighting for it.

You cannot achieve freedom and peace through war or occupation of other lands like the Philippines.  You cannot pretend that agreements like EDCA do not violate the sovereignty of the Filipino people.  You cannot turn a blind eye on the extrajudicial killings, disappearances, and torture still happening in the Philippines.  By entering into agreements with the Philippine government and continuing to fund the Armed Forces of the Philippines, you are in effect giving your seal of approval for the B.S. Aquino administration to continue its corruption and deceit, and to continue to commit human rights abuses.

What should be said about the United States, which supports governments like the Philippines that are corrupt and which silences dissent through extrajudicial killings, abductions, and torture?  Are you willing to sacrifice the sovereignty and well-being of the Filipino people as well as the well-being of the majority of the American people, for the sake of profit and power for the elite few of the United States? Are you willing to continue draining away billions of dollars from education, housing, healthcare and sustainable energy for poor and struggling American families in order to continue enriching the giant military corporations?

Like you, I continue with a stubborn hope that things will change and that something better awaits us.  That is why I write this letter to you.  Five years later and there is still no justice for my case.  As President of the United States, I hope that you will push for the genuine investigation into my abduction and torture and demand that the Philippines punish the perpetrators.

I also demand that our taxpayer dollars are not used to fund the Philippine military which continues to commit human rights violations.  I demand that the U.S. withdraw our troops from the Philippines and terminate unequal agreements like EDCA.

I hope that one day there will be a world without torture, a world with a just and lasting peace.  But unlike you Mr. President, I don’t want to side with oppressive governments like the administration of B.S. Aquino in the Philippines.  I want to be on the side of history that aligns itself with the basic masses of the people who continue to fight to overcome oppression and exploitation.  I want to be on the side of history that believes in the right of all people to live with genuine freedom and democracy.


Melissa Roxas

Join Week of Actions for Justice for Melissa! 5 years later-no justice!
Justice Delayed is Justice Denied for Melissa Roxas and Others

Friday, May 23, 2014, 7 PM
Justice for Melissa Cultural Solidarity Night
Echo Park United Methodist Church
1226 N. Alvarado Street
Los Angeles, CA 90026

Join us for a cultural solidarity night of music and poetry.  Call for justice for all victims of human rights violations in the Philippines.

Enjoy live performances and hear the poetry of special guest and poet Melissa Roxas—a survivor of torture—courageously sharing her story in the pursuit of justice.

More info

Tuesday, May 20, 2014, 5:30 PM – 7 PM
Justice for Melissa Educational Discussion
Multicultural Center (SMSU 228)
Portland State University

Contact: portlandchrp@gmail.com

Saturday, May 10, 2014, 7 PM – 10 PM
J4M: Justice for Melissa Roxas Benefit Concert
Bindlestiff Studio
185 Sixth Street
San Francisco, CA 94103

Hear performances by Hemorage, Monte, Parae, Little Sister, Boondock Squad, DJ Rude Bwoy Charlie, and learn about the work for justice for Melissa Roxas and other victims of state-sponsored violence in the Philippines.

Tickets: $10 at the door

No smoking/No drinking inside the venue.

Proceeds benefit San Francisco Committee for Human Rights in the Philippines (SFCHRP) and Bindlestiff Studio.

SFCHRP educates, activates, and organizes Bay Area communities to promote the human rights of the Filipino people and to support human rights struggles across the globe.

Please come out and support! More info

Sign the petition calling on President Aquino to compel Philippine authorities to investigate Melissa’s case: http://www.change.org/petitions/president-aquino-investigate-the-abduction-and-torture-of-melissa-roxas

May 19, 2013 marks the fourth anniversary of the abduction and disappearance of Melissa Roxas, who was abducted on May 19 and surfaced on May 25, 2009 after an international outcry.  Melissa’s case made headlines as the first case of such a human rights violation committed against a US citizen in the Philippines under President Obama’s term.  As one of the few survivors of abduction by the Armed Forces of the Philippines, Melissa courageously went public with her story, seeking justice not only for herself, but for all victims of human rights violations.  Melissa filed her case in the Philippine courts, testified in various venues, and fully cooperated with the investigation undertaken by the Commission on Human Rights.  Four years after her abduction, we are still fighting for justice for Melissa and all victims of human rights violations in the Philippines.

Just last month on April 16, 2013, the Supreme Court of the Philippines issued a resolution on Melissa’s case, which orders the Philippine authorities to “continue and undertake a deeper probe and investigation of the incidents with the end in view of identifying the perpetrators of the complained abduction and abuses and of the eventual filing of cases for said resultant crimes.” In the preceding month, the Philippines Court of Appeals declared that activist-agriculturalist Jonas Burgos was abducted by the Armed Forces of the Philippines.  However, despite overwhelming evidence that Melissa, Jonas and so many others have been abducted and tortured by the Armed Forces of the Philippines, to this day none of the perpetrators have been apprehended or prosecuted. This typifies the so-called justice system in the Philippines, where notorious human rights butchers like Army Major General Jovito Palparan—described by the National Council of Churches of the Philippines as “[personifying] the brutality and notoriety of the Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo administration for its gross, systematic and brazen violation of human rights”—can remain at-large even in the face of a warrant for his arrest for the kidnapping and illegal detention of two university students, due to the lack of political will by the Aquino regime to capture him.  As always, the only hope lies in the perseverance of the mass movement to continue demanding justice and organizing for change.

Since 2009, BAYAN-USA has held demonstrations the week of Melissa’s abduction and release, and made the “Justice for Melissa” demand a standard call at all BAYAN-USA’s actions dealing with human rights, the Visiting Forces Agreement, war and militarization.  In light of the ongoing impunity in the Philippines, we can not take for granted that the Philippine Supreme Court’s resolution will be acted on by government authorities unless the people demand it!

Please take action now to demand justice for Melissa and all victims of human rights violations. Join us in the following actions, as we count down each day that Melissa was disappeared, culminating in a Day of Action on May 24th, 2013.

Day 1—May 19:

Day 2—May 20:

Day 3—May 21:

  • Post a song/music video, poem or visual art in honor of people who have been tortured.
  • Continue forwarding the petition and gather signatures on petition demanding that Philippine authorities comply with the Supreme Court resolution to continue investigating Melissa’s case: http://www.change.org/petitions/president-aquino-investigate-the-abduction-and-torture-of-melissa-roxas
  • Make Justice for Melissa graphic your Facebook profile photo and update your status with: “Melissa was disappeared against her will and tortured today—May 21, 2009”

Day 4—May 22:

  • Post of photo or video montage of yourself and members of your organization or friends holding a sign “Justice for Melissa Roxas.”
  • Continue forwarding the petition and gather signatures on petition demanding that Philippine authorities comply with the Supreme Court resolution to continue investigating Melissa’s case: http://www.change.org/petitions/president-aquino-investigate-the-abduction-and-torture-of-melissa-roxas
  • Make Justice for Melissa graphic your Facebook profile photo and update your status with “Melissa was disappeared against her will and tortured today—May 22, 2009”

Day 5—May 23:

  • Record and post a video message of solidarity to Melissa and all victims of human rights violations.
  • Continue forwarding the petition and gather signatures on petition demanding that Philippine authorities comply with the Supreme Court resolution to continue investigating Melissa’s case: http://www.change.org/petitions/president-aquino-investigate-the-abduction-and-torture-of-melissa-roxas
  • Make Justice for Melissa graphic your Facebook profile photo and update your status with: “Melissa was disappeared against her will and tortured today—May 23, 2009”

Day 6—May 24:

Day 7—May 25:

  • Record and post a video message calling on President Aquino to ensure that Philippine authorities comply with the Supreme Court resolution ordering them to pursue the investigation of Melissa’s case.
  • Continue forwarding the petition and gather signatures on petition demanding that Philippine authorities comply with the Supreme Court resolution to continue investigating Melissa’s case: http://www.change.org/petitions/president-aquino-investigate-the-abduction-and-torture-of-melissa-roxas
  • Make Justice for Melissa graphic your Facebook profile photo and update your status with “Melissa was surfaced today but justice is still missing—May 25, 2009”
  • Make a donation to BAYAN-USA, so we can continue the campaign for Justice for Melissa and all victims of human rights violations: http://www.bayanusa.org/donate


Jonas Burgos

A recently released photo of Jonas Burgos taken shortly after he was abducted by the Philippine military in April 2007.

As a survivor of abduction by the Philippine military in 2009, my heart went out to the Burgos family after I heard the favorable news of the Philippine Court of Appeals ruling last week on the case of Jonas Burgos.  After years of presenting the case before the Philippine Courts, the Court of Appeals has finally recognized that the Armed Forces of the Philippines was responsible for the enforced disappearance of Jonas Burgos.

Jonas Burgos was an activist-agriculturalist who was abducted in broad daylight by the Philippine military on April 28, 2007 while he was having lunch in the Ever Gotesco Mall on Commonwealth Avenue, Quezon City.

The recently released photo of Jonas in detention brought tears to my eyes—to see him in that condition looking very tired and disoriented.  I saw the pain in his expression.  The stark white concrete wall behind him framed his melancholy face.

I understand what he has been through and can only imagine what he endured all these years.   Mrs. Edita Burgos—mother of Jonas—and her family’s agony over the years is a form of continuing torture.   When a loved one remains missing, it is torture for the families who continue looking for them and hoping they will be surfaced.

With perseverance and courage, Mrs. Edita Burgos and her family relentlessly pursued the case before the Philippine Courts and other human rights investigative bodies.  They enlisted the help of various human rights organizations like Karapatan, Desaparecidos, and other grassroots people’s organizations in the Philippines.  After many years of appeal to the Supreme Court, many rallies and protests that called for Jonas Burgos to be surfaced, the Philippine Court finally declared what the victims and families have known all along—that the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) is guilty of committing enforced disappearances.

I question the will of President Benigno Aquino III, as Commander in Chief, to push the Armed Forces to comply with the Court’s orders to surface Jonas and reveal all evidence related to his abduction.  Mrs. Burgos has made numerous direct appeals to President Aquino III with no result.

The Burgos family filed a petition for the writ of habeas corpus after Jonas disappeared in 2007.  The license plate number of the vehicle used during the abduction of Jonas was traced to an impounded vehicle inside the camp of the 56th Infantry Battalion of the Philippine Army in Bulacan, a province north of Metro Manila.

The Court of Appeals initially rejected the appeal in 2008.  It was only in 2011, four years since Jonas disappeared that the Supreme Court directed the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) to investigate the case.  The CHR then presented its findings to the Supreme Court, finding that the Philippine military—including Army Major Harry Baliaga Jr.—was responsible for the abduction of Jonas Burgos.  A witness positively identified Maj. Baliaga over the abduction of Jonas Burgos at a restaurant in the Ever Gotesco Mall.  The recent Court of Appeals Special 7th Division ruling also declared Army Maj. Harry Baliaga one of those responsible for the crime.

New pieces of evidence have also recently surfaced that Mrs. Edita Burgos and her family presented to the Supreme Court.  These include a picture of Jonas Burgos days after he was abducted and documentary evidence that would further prove that he was being held by an intelligence unit of the 7th Infantry Division of the Philippine Army and the 56th Infantry Battalion.

In the freejonasburgosmovement.blogspot.com website, it shows the photo that surfaced after five years and 338 days since the family has been searching for Jonas Burgos.

If only the Courts and the investigative bodies would have acted more swiftly maybe there would have been a chance that Jonas would have been found.  Any time someone is enforcedly disappeared, time is of utmost importance.  The more time passes, the obstacles to finding them become harder to overcome.

The Courts did not help because justice delayed is justice denied.  It took nearly six years before the Courts made their ruling and ordered the AFP to release Jonas Burgos.

The Philippine National Police (PNP) and the AFP colluded to delay, obstruct and mislead the investigations.  Despite the evidence, the AFP continues to deny responsibility for the enforced disappearance of Jonas Burgos and other desaparecidos (the disappeared).  The PNP, ordered by the Courts to investigate the Jonas Burgos case, continues to drag its feet and fails to conduct an exhaustive and meaningful investigation. Just recently the PNP Chief, Director General Alan Purisima, summarily dismissed both the decision of the appellate court and the new evidence filed by the Burgos family.

Despite promises to improve the human rights situation in the country, Philippine President Benigno Aquino III also has failed to genuinely investigate the disappearance of Jonas Burgos and other desaparecidos.   In December 2012, he even appointed Brig. Gen. Eduardo Año as the new chief of the Intelligence Services of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (ISAFP).  Año is a military officer that is implicated in gross human rights violations, including involvement in the abduction of Jonas Burgos.

Under the Aquino III administration, Army Maj. General Jovito Palparan has not been arrested and is still a free man in hiding.  Palparan has been on the run since the Philippine Department of Justice issued a resolution implicating him and three of his men in the abduction of two University students, Karen Empeño and Sherlyn Cadapan, in 2006.

Is this the way that President Aquino responds to the appeals of victims and family members of human rights violations?  Is this the “righteous road” that he was talking about when he first came into the presidency?

President Aquino III should prosecute those responsible for the abduction of Jonas Burgos all the way up the chain of command, instead of promoting them to higher office.  President Aquino III should demand the Armed Forces of the Philippines to surface Jonas.

For those of us living in the United States, it is also worth noting that the United States government continues to provide military aid and support to the Armed Forces of the Philippines.

According to a Reuters article dated May 3, 2012, the United States tripled military aid to the Philippines in 2012.  According to the same source, information from the U.S. Embassy in Manila showed that since 2002, the Philippines received nearly $500 million in military aid from the U.S.  This does not include other U.S. foreign military funding and military equipment provided by the U.S. to the Philippines.  This includes the transfer of 20 reconditioned helicopters, a Cyclone-class ship, and a Hamilton-class cutter.

In 2008, through the people’s lobbying efforts in Congress, Senator Barbara Boxer successfully pushed for the restriction of $3 million of military aid to the Philippines because of the political killings and human rights violations.  However, the Philippine government continues to petition for the removal of these conditions because it says that the Aquino government has shown that it has made efforts to improve the human rights situation in the Philippines.

The truth is that the Armed Forces of the Philippines under the government of President Benigno Aquino III continues to commit human rights violations.  President Aquino III’s administration has implemented Oplan Bayanihan, a counter-insurgency program modeled after the U.S.’s own counter-insurgency guide of 2009, that continues the same policy of human rights violations as its predecessor, Oplan Bantay-Laya.  Different name, but same deadly policy targeting communities, progressive organizations, and political activists.

U.S. military aid, training, and support to the Philippines must end.  If the U.S. government continues to fund a Philippine military that continues to commit grave human rights abuses, then it is in fact supporting this policy of political killings, enforced disappearances, and torture.

Many victims, their families, and witnesses have testified at the risk of their lives to shed light on the heinous human rights violations committed by the Philippine military with the knowledge of the Philippine government.  The victims and families of the disappeared have fought for their voices to be heard.

There is still much more that needs to be done.  The fact remains that Jonas Burgos and many other desaparecidos remain missing.

I thank Mrs. Burgos, her family, and the families of the desaparecidos for their courage and perseverance.  Mrs. Burgos I have not forgotten that you, along with the other nanays (mothers) of Desaparecidos were the ones to give me your loving support and protection when I had to testify about my ordeal.   You taught me a lot with your courage, strength, and faith.  I will continue to fight for Jonas until he is found and until the perpetrators are brought to justice.  I stand with you in the pursuit of truth and justice for all desaparecidos.

It makes my heart heavy and my eyes sore to think about how many desaparecidos still suffer under the darkness of captivity.  I hope that others will join in the campaign to continue to fight for justice.  Please don’t let Mrs. Burgos pleas for justice be in vain.  Public pressure and opinion is very important in the campaign for justice.  How many more testimonies of victims do we have to hear before we take action?  It is my hope that there will not be more news of political killings, abductions, or torture.  We can each do our part to spread the word, take action, and demand an end to human rights violations.

– Melissa Roxas

Surface Jonas Burgos and all desaparecidos!
Justice for Jonas Burgos and all victims of human rights violations!
Prosecute those responsible for the enforced disappearance of Jonas Burgos!
Stop U.S. Military Aid to the Philippines!

Older Posts »