Streetwise, By Carol Pagaduan-Araullo, Business World

31 July – 1 August 2009

“Keeping silent is like silencing forever all the voices that have been silenced,” says Melissa Roxas. A writer, poet, community health worker and, incidentally, an American citizen of Filipino ancestry, Melissa Roxas is altogether something else.  Last May, she and two Filipino companions were abducted by 15 armed men in Tarlac province while doing a health survey in the barrios.  She was tortured to the brink of death by people she suspects to be members of the Armed Forces of the Philippines.

After her unexpected and unexplained release, she left for the United States to be with her family and to be as far away as possible from the reach of her tormentors.  She could have stayed there until the safety and comfort of home washed away all the grim memories of her ordeal.  Instead, she came back to Manila to seek justice.

She had played along with her captors in order to stay alive. She feigned willingness to turn her back on her leftist politics and her affiliations. She promised she would keep quiet.  She needed to stop the beating, the harsh interrogation and the “dry submarine” torture wherein a plastic bag was put over her head to simulate drowning and caused her to suffocate.

After six days she was brought to the home of her Filipino relatives by several men and a woman pretending to be the “good guys”: they had seen to her personal needs while they guarded her and even offered friendship upon her release.  They gave her a book as a “souvenir” and told her to keep in touch through a cell phone number they gave her.

There is no denying that Melissa Roxas is a victim of illegal detention and torture.  But by whom and why?  She says she has every reason to believe that the military is behind her ordeal.  She is an activist by her own declaration and confirmed by her affiliations. Her interrogators kept forcing her to admit that she is a member of the communist-led New People’s Army (NPA) and to give information on them. The brazen manner by which she and her companions were taken and the confidence of her abductors that their operation had been “clean” — that is, their identities could not be traced and no one was after them — indicate the involvement of state security forces rather than mere lawless elements.

Given the Arroyo regime’s despicable human rights record, it is more than reasonable to give Melissa’s claims credence.  There are thousands of precedents — cases of summary executions, enforced disappearances, torture, illegal arrest and detention of leftist leaders, activists and their supporters who had been targeted for “neutralization” under the government’s counter-insurgency program.

Both the Commission on Human Rights and the Human Rights Committee of the House of Representatives conducted public hearings to listen to Melissa’s testimony.  The Supreme Court  initially granted her a writ of amparo to protect her from probable harm and harassment by the very same state forces she accuses of violating her human rights.

Ms. Roxas went to great lengths and at a huge risk to herself and her family to seek justice under this country’s legal justice system.  It is too much to impute that as part of her political activism she would concoct her story then go through the rigors and renewed torment of recounting her ordeal under oath.

At first the military simply dismissed Melissa’s story as untrue.  As far as they were concerned, it never happened.  Or if it happened, the military were not involved in any way.

The military’s response fits the past, worn-out pattern of blaming the victims and the NPA for the atrocities.  But the cover-ups and lies woven by the military and police have been so self-serving, riddled with inconsistencies, full of speculation and devoid of any evidentiary value.  All of the supposed state witnesses’ testimonies were proven to be perjured, not even the pro-government Melo Commission could give these military and police “findings” credence. Neither could it escape the conclusion that state security forces were indeed behind the extrajudicial killings.

But because Ms. Roxas’ testimony is so compelling and believable, the military had to find a way to punch a hole into her credibility as a victim-witness.  From out of nowhere, a video surfaced that allegedly proves Ms. Roxas is a member of the NPA.  Two pro-government and rabid anti-communist party-list representatives — notorious human rights violator, retired General Jovito Palparan, now Bantay representative, and self-proclaimed anti-communist vigilante Pastor Alcover Jr., now ANAD congressman — called a press conference and distributed the video to the media.

The Palparan-Alcover tandem aver that Melissa is an NPA member as shown by the video.  Ergo she shouldn’t be believed because she is motivated by her desire to smear the good name of the AFP.  They say there is a witness who swears that NPA themselves are responsible for her abduction and torture because they learned that she wanted to surrender to the authorities.  According to them, Melissa herself may not be aware of this, that she may have been deluded into thinking that the military is behind her torture.

The Palparan-Alcover “theory” (now adopted by the military) is riddled with self-contradictory claims.  They say that the video proves Ms. Roxas is an NPA member when the authenticity and the source of the video are unclear and still very much open to question.  Melissa testified that during her interrogation her captors showed her pictures of a woman in an alleged NPA camp. They tortured her to make her say that she was that woman but she repeatedly refused. Just as she consistently denied that she is a member of the NPA.

Now she asks, and rightly so, where did the Palparan-Alcover tandem get the copy of this video which she says was used by her interrogators, unsuccessfully, to try to force her to incriminate herself.  And assuming for the sake of argument that the woman in the video is indeed Ms. Roxas, does that constitute proof that she is an NPA member?

If anything, the abduction and torture of Melissa Roxas indicates that the perpetrators and authors of these heinous crimes against progressive leaders and activists are still on the loose.  Government is not lifting a finger to stop them.  Despite official pronouncements to the contrary, so-called “enemies of the state” are still open game, either for “legal offensives” (i.e. the filing of false criminal charges in order to arrest and detain activists) or as targets of extrajudicial killing and enforceddisappearance.

Such would have been the likely fate of Melissa Roxas had she had not been an American citizen. #