Migrant Heritage Commission

Fil-Am Volunteer’s U.S. Lawyer Asks Rights Watchdog To Release Findings

The veil of lies put up by Philippine President Gloria M. Arroyo’s military to hide their role in the abduction and torture of Filipino-American human rights volunteer Melissa Roxas has now crumbled. With their defense in the case now shaken, the investigation and prosecution of military authorities and their commander-in-chief should begin.

Lawyer Arnedo Valera thus said today following the granting by the Philippines’ Court of Appeals (CA) Aug. 26 for a writ of amparo for Roxas upon petition by her lawyers. Denying military respondents’ allegations that Roxas’s torture marks were “self-inflicted and stage-managed” with her abduction perpetrated by the leftist New People’s Army (NPA), the CA also ordered defense and military officials to stop circulating materials intended to link her to the communists.

Valera, Roxas’s counsel in the United States, said the appellate court’s decision bolsters his client’s case regarding her abduction by members of the Philippine military and the torture she underwent. Abducted on May 19 this year in Tarlac province about 120 kms north of Manila, she was tortured before her abductors left her alone — all beaten up and in deep trauma — somewhere in Quezon City six days later. She was on a human rights and medical mission in a farmers’ community when she, together with two male companions, was abducted at gunpoint by armed men.

Valera asked the Philippine Commission on Human Rights (CHR) to release its findings on the abduction-torture case and to recommend the investigation and prosecution of military men involved. Leila de Lima, the CHR chairperson, has probed into the military’s role in the case. In an ocular inspection at the Philippine Army’s Fort Magsaysay in Laur, Nueva Ecija, De Lima confirmed that the description of the place of captivity and torture by Roxas — blindfolded throughout her six-day ordeal — matched that of the military camp.

Ms. Roxas’s lawyer in the U.S. filed a complaint with the United Nations’ Special Rapporteur on Torture Professor Manfred Nowak under the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in Geneva, Switzerland last July 29, 2009 ,by way of an Urgent Appeal and Allegation vs. the Philippine Government.. The case alleged that Melissa Roxas is the first known American Citizen to have become a victim of abduction and torture in the Philippines under President Obama’s presidency. The appeal is also requesting the UN office to review the significant human rights violations committed on Roxas and that an immediate impartial and vigorous investigation conducted consistent with the established procedure under the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment and other relevant International Human Rights instruments.

The incident is the latest of hundreds of similar cases of forced disappearances and torture perpetrated against Filipino activists since Mrs. Arroyo’s presidency in 2001. Nearly 1,000 activists are also victims of summary executions.

Investigations by international organizations, including the UN Special Rapporteur on Extra-Judicial Killings, have pointed to the Arroyo government’s responsibility in the human rights violations with generals linked to many cases. Police investigators had blamed the NPA for the killings and abductions as part of its purge campaign against its own members prompting the UN special rapporteur, Philip Alston, to say that Arroyo’s generals should give up on their denial mode.

Mrs. Arroyo earns the notoriety of having faced four impeachment charges filed in Congress for her command responsibility in the atrocities as well as for corruption, election fraud, and other culpable violations of the Philippine constitution. Her presidency is to end in June 2010 but many Filipinos doubt she would step down to avoid facing a barrage of criminal lawsuits as a private citizen.

For Reference: Susan T. Pineda
Legal Coordinator, MHC Legal Resource Program
Migrant Heritage Commission
3930 Walnut St. Suite 200
Fairfax, VA 22030
(703) 273-1196