Abduction of Fil-Am Activist Reflects Political Repression in the Philippines

By the New York Committee for Human Rights in the Philippines

The abduction, captivity, and surfacing of Filipina-American activist Melissa Roxas serves as a due wakeup call to many Filipinos in the United States that no critic of the Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo regime, even US citizens, is immune to political repression enacted as a means to silence dissent in the Philippines. Melissa Roxas, a human rights advocate in the Philippines, was serving as part of a volunteer medical mission in Tarlac when she was abducted at gunpoint by eight masked men in the afternoon of May 19th. Within 48 hours from the time news of her abduction reached her friends in the United States on May 24th, an international barrage of statements, press releases, television news coverage, and even an online petition addressed to US President Barack Obama was launched, ending with news of Melissa’s surfacing and reunion with her family in Manila.

As of late, we have no details as to Melissa’s physical condition, if her captors harmed her in any way. It is certain though that Melissa’s safety remains at risk as she is most-likely being heavily monitored by her abductors. It also remains up in the air whether or not Melissa will stay in the Philippines to continue her human rights work or will return to Los Angeles, her hometown. Either way the international campaign to seek justice will not end just because she has surfaced. Two of Melissa’s companions on the medical mission, Juanito Carabeo and John Edward Handoc, were also abducted with Melissa. While Carabeo and Handoc have both just recently surfaced, their physical conditions remain unknown, we must continue to seek justice for Melissa, Juanito, and John Edward by demanding for an official investigation of the abduction and prosecution of the abductors.

It is safe to presume that Melissa’s US citizenship and the noise made across the Pacific by US citizens– particularly her colleagues in BAYAN USA, an alliance of Filipino social justice organizations across the United States– set Melissa apart from Carabeo and Handoc in their captors’ eyes. But US citizen or not, abduction is abduction, torture is torture, and a human life is a human life. The Roxas/Carabeo/Handoc kidnapping must be seen within the overall context of intensifying political repression in the Philippines. There are hundreds more Melissas in the Philippines today who have yet to surface. Their names include Jonas Burgos, Sherlyn Cadapan, Karen Empeno, James Balao and many many more. All were known critics of the policies of the Arroyo administration.

What should alarm Filipinos in the US even more than Melissa’s case is the fact that the Arroyo administration, one that has been internationally chided time and time again for perpetrating rampant human rights violations through the Philippine military, continues to receive a generous military aid package from the US government. In 2007, UN Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial Killings Philip Alston released a scathing report on the Philippines pointing out the Philippine military’s culpability as the main perpetrators of human rights violations. That same year, testimonies by a Philippine church delegation to the US Senate identified a correlation between the rise in human rights violations in the Philippines to an increase in US military aid.

This implies that the death squads and elements of the Philippine military perpetrating these politically-motivated killings and abductions are enabled to do so because of the hard-earned tax dollars from people like us here in the US.

If the power of our voices raised for Melissa and Juanito can contribute to their victorious surfacing, let us do the same for John Edward Handoc, and all the hundreds more victims of enforced disappearances in the Philippines today. Let us also raise our concerned voices to the Obama administration for continuing to monetarily support the Arroyo government in the Philippines. Let us register our call to withdraw all forms of US economic aid to the Philippines until such time human rights for the Filipino people are recognized, respected, and upheld.

For the cause of peace, justice, and human rights,

Lolan Sevilla, Dasaw Floyd, Gary Labao, Jamie Mapa, Rico Foz, Ramon Mappala, Berna Ellorin, Peter Arvin Jabido, Jonna Baldres

NY Committee for Human Rights in the Philippines

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