NEW YORK (June 25) — Amidst the heightening controversy in Washington over the disclosure of CIA memos detailing the use of “enhanced interrogation techniques” under the Bush administration, Filipinos across the United States are marking June 26th, deemed by the United Nations as an International Day in Support of Torture Victims, with intensified calls to Congress to cut the amount of US military aid to the Philippines.
Among them is the NY Committee for Human Rights in the Philippines (NYCHRP), which releases its online emergency petition addressed to key members of both the House and Senate Appropriations Committee today. Both chambers of Congress are currently meeting over the next few weeks into July to decide on the next amount of US military aid to the Philippines.
NYCHRP is stressing emphasis on Congresswoman Nita Lowey of New York’s 18th District, who chairs the House Subcommittee on State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs, the very committee that drafts language on US military aid to the Philippines as well as Senator Frank Lautenberg of New Jersey, who sits in the Senate Subcommittee of State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs.
“There is definitely a link between US military aid to the Philippines and human rights violations,” states NYCHRP member Ramon Mappala. “Whenever there is an increase in aid to the Philippines, there is an increase in killings, kidnappings, and torture in the country.”
Mappala himself is an ex-detainee held during the Marcos dictatorship in the 1970’s.
One particular case many are highlighting is that of Melissa Roxas, a 31 year-old Filipina-American abducted and tortured by suspected elements of the Philippine military last May.
In a sworn statement, Roxas reported of being blind-folded, handcuffed, beaten, and suffocated during her 6-day captivity at what many believe to be Fort Magsaysay, a Philippine military camp near the village she was taken at gunpoint on May 19th. Despite claims by the Arroyo government that the abduction was staged, Roxas filed a writ of Amparo that was granted by the Philippine Supreme Court. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, as well as key members of the Philippine military were listed as respondents.
At present, a long history of partnership between the United States and the Philippines enables well-funded US assistance programs to train Philippine military operations, including the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA).
But reports that the Philippine military was mainly responsible for the over 900 killings and 200 abductions of civilians critical of the Arroyo government by UN Special Rapporteur Philip Alston in 2007 led to a US Senate hearing that tied human rights conditions to a portion of the 2008 US military aid package to the Philippines. In his 2009 follow-up report, Alston indicated a general failure of the Arroyo government to stop the rampant human rights violations in the Philippines.
In the meantime, the UN Committee Against Torture (UNCAT) also released a 2009 report detailing the use of torture by the Philippine military on its detainees.
“Because US tax dollars are being used to assist the Philippine military, US tax dollars are being used for human rights violations perpetrated by the Philippine military, including the abduction and torture of Melissa Roxas. But there are many others in the Philippines, including Sherlyn Cadapan, Karen Empeno, and James Balao, who are still missing,” Mappala added.
An emergency online petition calling for the US Appropriations Committee to cut military aid to the Philippines is found in http://nychrp.org/legislative/