FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Reference: Rhonda Ramiro, BAYAN-USA Secretary General, email@example.com
(photo via pinoyherald.org)
CHR Resolution Protects Torturers, Torments Victims
“This is a cover-up,” stated BAYAN-USA Chair Bernadette Ellorin in response to the release of a Resolution by the Commission on Human Rights of the Philippines (CHR) on the case of the abduction and torture of Filipino American Melissa Roxas on May 19, 2009. The result of an investigation begun on the 25th of May 2009, the CHR’s report cites copious evidence gathered through public inquiries, expert witnesses, inspections of the abduction site and military facilities where Roxas was possibly held, and sworn statements by Roxas herself, yet concludes that “In light of the lack of evidence against the persons who inflicted the physical and psychological maltreatment on the complainant, it is not possible for the Commission to reach any findings on torture” in Roxas’ case.
“With this single report, the CHR has virtually erased any progress made in its 1-1/2 year investigation into this case by the previous CHR chair. It appears that now the CHR is more concerned with covering up the crimes of the Philippine military than with uncovering the truth about human rights violations in the country,” said Ellorin.
The first American citizen to be abducted and tortured under the administration of former President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, Roxas is a well-known Filipino American human rights advocate and was BAYAN-USA’s first Regional Coordinator in Los Angeles, CA and a founding member of the Los Angeles-based cultural organization Habi Arts. In her sworn affidavit and testimony provided in several court appearances and CHR Public Inquiries in 2009, Roxas described in detail the ordeal she experienced at the hands of the Philippine military: being abducted by approximately 15 armed men, handcuffed and blindfolded for six days, held in a jail cell, subjected to torture via asphyxiation using a doubled-up plastic bag, repeated beatings to the face and body, and having her head banged repeatedly against the wall by her interrogators, who tried to force her to admit that she was a member of the New People’s Army and advised her abandon communism and to “return to the fold.” Roxas said that one interrogator stated those who tortured her were from the Special Operations Group (SOG), and she heard one of her interrogators addressed as “Sir.” She also heard gunfire from what she believed to be a firing range as well as the sounds of aircraft, pointing to the high probability that she was held in a military camp.
By its own admission, the CHR report states that Roxas provided exceptionally consistent and detailed descriptions of the torture she underwent, the place she was held, and the physical appearance of five people involved in her abduction and detention, indicating that Roxas’ testimony is extremely credible. However, the CHR report still concludes that it has “insufficient evidence to pinpoint individual members of the AFP as the possible or probably perpetrators.”
Moreover, the CHR report dares to shift the blame from the Philippine military to the New People’s Army (NPA). “The CHR has received information that indicate the possibility that members of the NPA committed the kidnapping, and other human rights violations on Roxas,” states the resolution on page 20. In response, Ellorin said, “By making such blanket accusations without providing a speck of evidence, the CHR under President Aquino is showing that it is no different from the Philippine Presidential Human Rights Commission (PHRC) under Arroyo, which tried to dismiss Melissa’s traumatic ordeal by saying that it was fabricated. Falling for information like this is laughable, especially considering that Melissa’s captors tried to force her to admit she was an NPA member. Even worse, the CHR resolution opportunistically supports the Aquino government’s counter-insurgency program Oplan Bayanihan, which is attempting to demonize the NPA while duping the public into believing that the AFP is a peace-making force.”
International human rights advocates such as Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial Killings have repeatedly criticized the Philippine government’s cover-up of state-sponsored torture. “This CHR resolution perpetuates the culture of impunity that reigns in the Philippines. There is still no justice for the innocent women and journalists slaughtered in the Maguindanao Massacre in 2009, not one perpetrator has been apprehended in the cases of thousands of cases of extra-judicial killings, nor the abduction and torture of people like Melissa Roxas and the Morong 43 health workers,” said Ellorin.
“The CHR resolution will just add fuel to the fire of the Justice for Melissa campaign,” continued Ellorin. “While the CHR under Aquino lacks the political will to uphold human rights, BAYAN-USA and Melissa’s supporters will persist in pursuing justice for Melissa through all vehicles available to us in the U.S.”
The timing of the release of the CHR Resolution comes as the U.S. Congress enters the final weeks of a contentious budget battle, expected by both Democrats and Republicans to result in hundreds of billions of dollars in cuts to essential public services. BAYAN-USA calls on the U.S. Congress and Obama administration to stop pouring millions of American taxpayer dollars into the Philippine military, which tortures and kills innocent people under the tacit protection of the so-called Commission on Human Rights.