Melissa Roxas takes oath to tell the truth and nothing but the truth. MANILA (July 23) — The description by Filipino-American activist Melissa Roxas of the place where she was brought to be tortured and interrogated after her abduction seemed consistent with what a team from the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) saw during an inspection at Fort Magsaysay, a military camp in Nueva Ecija province north of Manila.
This was one of the revelations that came out in today’s CHR hearing of Roxas’s abduction and torture.
Testifying before an en banc CHR, Roxas recalled the incident on May 19 in Barangay Bagong Sikat, La Paz, Tarlac, and reiterated the content of the affidavit she earlier submitted to the Supreme Court.
Roxas also revealed that the beatings “became less” when she told her captors that she is an American citizen.
In the same hearing, military officials denied that elements from the Army’s 7th Infantry Division based in Fort Magsaysay had a hand in Roxas’s abduction and torture.
Roxas recalled that on May 19, while watching television, at least 15 men with long firearms barged into the house where Roxas and her two companions, Juanito Carabeo and John Edward, were staying. The three were dragged into a blue van, handcuffed, blindfolded then brought to a place that took more than hour to reach.
Asked by the commissioners about the place of her detention, Roxas said she heard the sound of planes landing and taking off, shots coming from what sounded like firing ranges and noise from a construction site. She also heard vehicles passing by, she said.
Later, CHR chairperson Leila de Lima told the military officials in the hearing that a CHR team that conducted a surprise visit to Fort Magsaysay on June 10 “saw an airstrip, four firing ranges and a building under construction.”
“We vehemently deny the accusations against us,” said Col. Leonido Bongcawil, who represented Major Gen. Ralph Villanueva, commanding officer of the 7th Infantry Division, at the hearing.
Lt. Col. Herminio Barrios, legal counsel of the 7th ID, said there is no evidence pointing to military men as responsible for Roxas’s fate. He said travel from La Paz, Tarlac, to Fort Magsaysay takes about 30 minutes.
Bongcawil pointed out that that there are 19 more airfields near La Paz, Tarlac.
Bongcawil said it was unfair of Roxas to say that she was held in Fort Magsaysay. “Fort Magsaysay is a tourist destination,” Bongcawil said.
To this, de Lima asked: “If it were a tourist destination, how come we were held 40 minutes [before being allowed to enter]?” Bongcawil said it was part of their “standard operating procedure.”
De Lima said they were not allowed access to some parts of the camp during their inspection.
“Will you allow us unhampered access if we decide to go back to Fort Magsaysay?” de Lima asked Bongcawil. The military officer replied that it’s up to their commanding officer.
But Barrios butted in, saying that such a visit by the CHR will require approval from the AFP chief of staff.
Human Rights Commissioners hear the testimony of Melissa Roxas on July 23. (Photo Ronalyn Olea)Faces
Before being blindfolded, Roxas told the commission that she managed to see the faces of at least two of her abductors, one was wearing a white shirt and the other a maroon shirt.
Inside her jail, peeking through her blindfolds, she could see Rose, one of her interrogators who stayed with her during most of the time of her captivity, Roxas said.
She said she also saw the partially covered faces of two more interrogators who introduced themselves as Dex and RC. Roxas said she could describe her abductors.
Two nights before she was released, Roxas said her blindfold was taken off and then Carabeo and Jandoc were brought to her.
Roxas insisted that her captors were members of the military. “They kept telling me that I am a member of the CPP [Communist Party of the Philippines]-NPA [New People’s Army]. I told them I was not. I am a health volunteer and I want access to my lawyer,” she said.
But one of the interrogators told her: “You have no rights here. Nobody knows you are here.”
One of the interrogators referred to as “sir” by the others threatened her, Roxas said. “He told me that if I didn’t cooperate, I would be transferred. He didn’t say where,” she said. “He told me they were not that nice. He was precise with his questions.”
She refused to sign papers stating that she is a member of the communist party, which has been waging a four-decade old Maoist revolution in the Philippines.
Roxas recalled seeing a man wearing fatigue uniforms when she peeked through her blindfold. “I heard men talking about how they interrogate people. They were laughing so loud,” Roxas said.
Barrios, when asked for comment by reporters during a break in the hearing, said that “anybody can wear a fatigue.” He also said that in the military, subordinates cannot laugh in front of their superiors.
Roxas asked Rose about the ongoing construction. Rose said they were trying to make the walls higher in the camp. Later on, Roxas said, Rose said it was actually a poultry house.
Roxas said she was strangled, hit on the chest during the interrogation and her ears slapped repeatedly. “Are you ready to die?” one of the torturers asked her.
Her head was banged against the wall. Two plastic bags were put over her head until she was choking. “I’m gonna die. I couldn’t breathe anymore,” Melissa recalled.
Asked by de Lima if she was sexually molested, Roxas did not answer categorically. She paused for a while and said that the male interrogators told Rose that “we want to give her a bath.” “I told Rose not to let them,” Roxas said.
Roxas said she was then given a drink, like a soda, but it tasted different. Then she dozed off. She did not know what happened to her next.
On the night before she was released, Roxas said RC, one of the interrogators, warned her against telling anyone about the incident.
In the early morning of May 25, they left the place. She was brought to Quezon City where her relatives reside.
Her abductors left with her the handcuffs that they had used on her, two books — the Bible and Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s “Love in the Time of Cholera” — and a mobile phone. These items were later shown by Roxas’s legal counsel, Rex Fernandez, to the CHR officials.
“Do you know why you were released?” Roxas was asked by one of the commissioners. Roxas said she did not know. She was told by her abductors that they would be watching her.
Roxas came back to the Philippines on July 20 to testify at the CHR hearing and before the Court of Appeals later this month for her petition for writ of amparo, in which she asked the protection of the court against possible threats to her life.
She had gone back to the United States, where she had immigrated when she was only nine years old, after her release. Her lawyers there said they would file a case against the Philippine government before a US federal court. If this case prospers, it could open the lid on what many human-rights groups in the Philippines say is a deadly counter-insurgency policy that targets civilian activists who are not part of the armed struggled being waged by the communists.
According to human-rights groups, more than a thousand Filipinos, mostly leftist activists, have been victims of extrajudicial killings that are part of this policy called Oplan Bantay Laya (Operation Plan Freedom Watch) that does not distinguish an open and legal activist from an armed revolutionary.
Aside from the killings, hundreds more have disappeared without a trace while others – like Roxas — were kidnapped and tortured. A key component of this policy is the filing of what human-rights groups say are trumped-up charges against activists.
International human-rights groups, as well as the United Nations Human Rights Council, have blamed these killings and atrocities on the Philippine military, which continues to deny the charge. In the case of Roxas, the military insists that her charges are fabricated and that her abduction and torture had been “staged-managed” in order to discredit the Arroyo regime. (Bulatlat.com)