The Human Rights Situation in the Philippines and the Case of Melissa Roxas

On the afternoon of May 19, Melissa Roxas was abducted in the Philippines, along with her companions, John Edward Jandoc and Juanito Carabeo. An American citizen of Filipino descent, Melissa was part of a health services team preparing for a medical mission in the community of Tarlac in the Central Luzon area of the Philippines. On May 26, Melissa surfaced in Manila.

Today we will hear Melissa describe for herself the inhumanity she experienced at the hands of her abductors.

Unfortunately, Melissa’s experience is not isolated. Her experiences typifies the pattern of abductions, forced disappearances, torture, extra-judicial killings and other human rights violations committed under the presidency of Gloria Macapagal Arroyo.

Since 2001, the number of victims of human rights violations has reached record levels in the Philippines, alarming the United Nations and human rights organizations around the world including Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch. The human rights organization Karapatan documented the following number of victims of grave human rights violations from January 2001-March 2009:

Extra-judicial executions 1,017

Enforced, involuntary disappearance 201

Abduction 203

Torture 1,010

Reports issued by the U.N. Special Rapporteur on Extra-Judicial Killings Philip Alston, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and Karapatan have concluded that the vast majority of the victims were community organizers, labor leaders, church workers, human rights attorneys, farmers, and journalists and others who were addressing the needs of the oppressed and impoverished majority.

They have concluded that the Philippine military has systematically and with impunity carried out politically-motivated executions, abductions, torture and arrests against unarmed civilians like Melissa as part of their counter-insurgency program, Oplan Bantay Laya.

The reaction of any caring person, any person with a heart is to comfort the victim, and hold the perpetrator accountable, and prevent these crimes from happening again. Instead, the Philippine government immediately denies responsibility. Even worse, the government pours salt in the wounds of those whose bodies they have tormented by blaming the victim.

International human rights monitoring agencies have found that the Philippine government uses red-baiting tactics, and vilifies the victim. They attempt to shift responsibility from themselves and their armed forces by saying things like, “Melissa must have been waiting to be abducted,” or that she went to that community in Tarlac knowing that she could be abducted because she wanted to make the government look bad.

We do not even need to say how ridiculous these arguments are. This is not about left vs. right. This is about right vs. wrong. Torture is wrong. And torture is always against the law.

There is something that makes the case of Melissa Roxas even more infuriating for many of us here in this church. We who are Melissa’s friends, family, and fellow human rights advocates, who live here in the U.S. And this is the fact that the hard-earned money we pay to the U.S. government in taxes is what paid for these crimes to be committed against Melissa.

The U.S. government sends tens of millions of dollars in military aid every single year to the Philippines. The U.S. pays for thousands of American military troops and advisors to train the Philippine military every single year.

Our return on investment has been the killing, abduction, and torture of thousands of innocent people, including an American citizen, Melissa Roxas.

U.S. military aid is funding state-sponsored violence. U.S. military aid is funding national insecurity.

The U.S. has given nearly $1 billion in military aid to the Philippines since 1999. In California, that same amount of money could have provided health care to over 400,000 people.

The U.S. government has blood on its hands because it funds and trains the Philippine military in misguided counterinsurgency tactics that do nothing but terrorize innocent people.

It is time for change.

We seek a change in the U.S. policies which support human rights abuses in the Philippines. We call for an end to the use of our tax dollars to fund the Philippine military which commits these atrocities. The Justice for Melissa Roxas campaign demands accountability by the perpetrators of these crimes against Melissa.

Melissa Roxas is one of thousands of innocent victims of abduction and torture stage-managed by the Arroyo government, performed by the Philippine military, and funded by U.S. military aid.

But she is one of the rare victims who has lived to tell her story. I invite all of you today to listen to this brave woman tell her story. And I invite all of you to carry the Justice for Melissa Roxas campaign. At this time, I would like to welcome Melissa Roxas.