SOPHIA DEDACE, GMANews.TV
DARK PLACE. In between sobs, Melissa Roxas on Sunday relates her experience in the hands of her captors. BAYAN Photos
MANILA, Philippines – The Philippine government is prepared to face a possible probe after Filipino-American activist Melissa Roxas accused the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) abducting and torturing her in May, Malacañang said Monday.
"The government is prepared to act accordingly. We just hope that this is not used for propaganda," Press Secretary Cerge Remonde said in a phone interview with GMANews.TV.
Last Sunday (Manila time), Roxas spoke at a press conference in Los Angeles, California to recount her ordeal. She maintained that military operatives abducted and tortured her last May in Tarlac province.
Roxas's lawyer said he and his client would raise the matter before the US State Department and the United Nations.
Lawyer Arnedo Valera said that since his client is an American citizen, she could seek legal action in federal courts for damages for the Intentional Tort of an Unlawful Kidnapping.
Under the Intentional Tort case, Roxas could seek punitive and compensatory damages against her identified assailants or initiate the case and litigation against the Philippine government, Valera said.
"Deliberate torture was perpetrated against a US citizen, under the color of official authority. It violates universally accepted norms of international human rights law, and such a violation of international law constitutes a violation of the domestic law of the US," Valera said in a phone patch statement during the press briefing.
The Philippine military, for its part, welcomed the looming inquiry sought by Roxas before the US State Department and the UN.
"We welcome that, because this is an opportunity for us to clarify that the AFP has nothing to do with her alleged torture and abduction," AFP spokesperson Lt. Col. Romeo Brawner Jr. told GMANews.TV in a phone interview.
Brawner, however, said that the process would be complicated because the matter would constitute "government to government negotiations already."
The military official reiterated that when the AFP leadership learned of Roxas’ allegations, it conducted an internal inquiry and found that military personnel were not responsible for Roxas’ alleged abduction and torture and that such an incident might have been "fabricated."
"We initiated a probe upon learning of the issue last month, and our investigation showed that the 7th Infantry Division in Tarlac was not responsible for anything that happened to Ms. Roxas," Brawner said.
In her sworn affidavit, Roxas said that on the afternoon of May 19, 2009, she was on a medical mission in La Paz town in Tarlac when 15 armed men believed to be members of the military abducted her and two of her companions (John Edward Jandoc and Juanito Carabeo).
She said they were taken to a van, blindfolded, and handcuffed on the way to what she presumed was Fort Magsaysay, a military camp in Nueva Ecija province.
Roxas related that she was "interrogated" and “beaten up" several times. She repeatedly demanded to see her lawyer and stressed that she had rights, too, but her captors only told her that the concept of "rights" was nonexistent.
She said she was held captive for six days and upon her release on May 25, she was given a subscriber’s identification module (SIM) card through which her abductors would communicate with her and monitor her actions.
Roxas added that her abductors also warned her not to tell anyone about the incident, especially the human rights group Karapatan.
On May 28, two days after she surfaced, Roxas sought court protection by filing a petition for the issuance of the writ of amparo at the Supreme Court. The high tribunal granted her plea and ordered the Court of Appeals to conduct proceedings on the case.
Roxas then returned to the US in the first week of June. Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan) secretary-general Renato Reyes Jr. told GMANews.TV in a phone interview on Sunday that Roxas’ life was in danger here in the Philippines.
In the Los Angeles press conference, Roxas said she still carried the trauma of her ordeal, and that relating the experience was like returning to "that dark place."
Still, she said that she needed to speak the truth to bring to light supposed human rights violations in the Philippines.
"I want the world to know what happened because the Philippine government and military should not get away with what they did to me… and they cannot get away with what they did to many other people," she said.
Roxas, a founding member of the cultural organization Habi-Arts in Los Angeles and Southern California representative for Bayan-USA, went to the Philippines in 2007 to pursue human rights advocacy.
She arrived amid an acute human rights crisis in the Philippines that includes reports of rampant extrajudicial killings, enforced disappearances, illegal arrest, torture, and summary executions, Bayan said.
In 2005, Roxas participated in an international fact-finding mission investigating human rights violations throughout the Philippines under the Arroyo administration.
Culture of impunity
If proven that Roxas indeed suffered at the hands of the military, she is lucky to have survived to tell her story.
Data culled by GMANews.TV from the human rights group Karapatan showed that from January 2001 to March 2009, it documented 1,017 cases of extrajudicial killings; 1, 010 victims of torture, 201 cases of forced disappearances; and 203 victims of abduction.
In 2007, UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial killings Philip Alston reported that the Arroyo administration, through the military, had been carrying out a national policy of killing leftist activists.
Alston doubted the military’s claim that the killings were a result of the purge within the ranks of the New People’s Army to neutralize spies and undermine the government.
"The military is in a state of denial concerning the numerous extrajudicial executions in which its soldiers are implicated… The evidence that the (NPA) is engaged in a large-scale purge is strikingly unconvincing," the report read.
Alston called the state of denial of the military on the scope of the killings as "a cynical attempt to displace responsibility."
Early 2009, Alston came out with a follow-up report and said that the government had failed to make “substantial progress" in curbing human rights abuses in the Philippines.
Malacañang and the AFP had both bristled at Alston’s reports, saying these were “half-baked" and were “unfair."
In Monday’s phone interview with GMANews.TV, Brawner stressed that torture and extralegal killings are not part of the military’s policies. - GMANews.TV