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Press Statement
July 31, 2009

References:
Katrina Abarcar, Katarungan: Center for Peace, Justice, and Human Rights in the Philippines, email: katarungan@comcast.net;
Peter Arvin Jabido, NY Committee for Human Rights in the Philippines (NYCHRP), email: nychrp@gmail.com

Filipino-American Rights Groups Disappointed in Obama for Standing with Leader on Wrong Side of History

See Related Photos:
http://www.katarungan-dc.org/gma-white-house-visit-picket-and-vigil/

US-based rights groups are registering disappointment over the outcome of US President Barack Obama’s meeting with President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo of the Philippines yesterday at the White House.

“Yesterday, Obama shook hands with a leader who stands on the wrong side of history,” states Gary Labao of the NY Committee for Human Rights in the Philippines (NYCHRP), a New York City-based human rights advocacy organization. “Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo fits the description of one who clings to power though deceit, corruption, and the silencing of dissent to a tee.”

A few hours before Arroyo’s arrival on the White House driveway, DC-rights group Katarungan: Center for Peace, Justice, and Human Rights in the Philippines and the Columban Center for Outreach and Advocacy sponsored a prayer vigil for the victims of extrajudicial killings and abductions by the Philippine military in front of the White House gate. Other sponsors of the vigil included the Ecumenical Advocacy Network for the Philippines, the United Methodist Church, the Presbyterian Church-USA Washington DC Office, the United Church of Christ Justice and Witness Ministries, the Global Ministries of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) and United Church of Christ, the International Labor Rights Forum, and NYCHRP.

Members of NYCHRP, Anakbayan NY/NJ, Filipinas for Rights and Empowerment, and Sandiwa Fil-Am Youth Alliance traveled from New York to join the vigil, in which around 50 advocates stood in a circle in front of the White House gates and renewed their call for US Congress to cut a greater amount of US military aid to the Philippines and tag greater human rights conditions. Also discussed was the case of Melissa Roxas, an American abducted and tortured in the Philippines last May. It is widely-believed that Roxas was taken by elements of the 7th Infantry Division of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) based in Central Luzon.

Katrina Abarcar of Katarungan spoke on Roxas’ behalf and reiterated the words from a statement of Roxas, who is currently in the Philippines testifying against the Philippine military– “I can no longer count how many times I have narrated the incident and my ordeal. But I will not tire to tell the truth about what happened for I seek justice, not only for myself, but for others who have gone through the same. I seek justice, not only for what they did to me, but for other victims of human rights violations.”

Arroyo’s White House Arrival Met with Protest

After the vigil, the rights groups staged a protest in front of the White House gates in anticipation of Arroyo’s arrival.
Chanting “Gloria Tuta, Diktador Pasista!” (Gloria, Puppet! Fascist Dictator!) and “Inutang na Dugo, Singilin, Siniglin, Pagbayarin!” (Blood Debt, Payback Now!) and “Gloria, Don’t Lie to Me. Torture Don’t Make Democracy!”, as Arroyo’s car entourage drove into the White House driveway, protestors marched to and straddled the White House front gate with banners and signs reading “Justice for Melissa Roxas!” and “Obama: Say to No to Torture! Say No to Arroyo!”

During the 45-minute meeting between Obama and Arroyo, the groups stayed outside the White House holding picket-protest, explaining to tourists and passersby the state of unequal relations between the US and the Philippines, and why more Americans should demand that US Congress withdraw all forms of support to the Arroyo government.

Prior to the meeting, US human rights advocates were pushing for Obama to include raising the case of Roxas and human rights with Arroyo in person.

No Public Mention of Roxas or Human Rights in the Philippines

But the subsequent post-meeting press conference did not indicate whether or not the issues of Roxas or Arroyo’s human rights track record were raised behind closed doors. Instead, the only reference to human rights was Obama’s praise for Arroyo’s so-called efforts to address the human rights situation in Burma, as well as eagerness to work with the Arroyo government by appointing the Philippines as the coordinator of the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN), an economic organization of countries in the region framed to promote economic, social, and cultural progress.

“We assume his silence means he is more committed to continuing Bush’s foreign policy on the Philippines, which includes maintaining and even increasing US troop presence on the island nation, and using the Arroyo government as a proxy to uphold US economic and political interests in the region,” Abarcar said. “So much for standing ‘against torture wherever it takes place.’ ”

Arroyo critics continued with the picket until Arroyo’s departure, in which the chanting resumed until the car entourage was off the White House premises.

Katarungan and NYCHRP, along with other US-based groups and churches, have been actively lobbying the members of the House and Senate Appropriations Committees to cut a greater portion of US military aid to the Philippines. They expect a final decision on the 2010 military aid package released by September.

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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

June 26, 2009

Contact: Rhonda Ramiro, 415-377-2599, secgen@bayanusa.org

U.S. CITIZEN ABDUCTED AND TORTURED BY SUSPECTED PHILIPPINE MILITARY AGENTS TO SPEAK PUBLICLY FOR FIRST TIME

U.N. Day in Support of Torture Victims Marked with Press Conference by Torture Survivor Melissa Roxas

What: Press Conference of Melissa Roxas, recent victim of abduction and torture

When: Saturday, June 27, 2009

Time: 4-5:30 PM

Where: Echo Park United Methodist Church

1226 N. Alvarado St.

Los Angeles, CA 90026

Live Web Stream: www.bayan.ph

LOS ANGELES, CA – In her first public appearance since being released from captivity, Melissa Roxas, a U.S. citizen abducted and tortured in the Philippines from May 19-25, will hold a press conference to describe the human rights abuses she endured while held for six days in an alleged military camp. Ms. Roxas, an American human rights advocate of Filipino descent, is the first known American citizen to have become a victim of abduction and torture in the Philippines, a country which has drawn international condemnation for state-sponsored human rights atrocities.

In a sworn affidavit submitted to the Philippine Supreme Court, Ms. Roxas described being abducted at gunpoint by several heavily armed men, brought to what she believed is a military camp, held against her will, questioned without the presence of an attorney, beaten repeatedly, and asphyxiated using plastic bags before being released. During the press conference, Ms. Roxas is expected to demand accountability from the Philippine government and military, who she holds responsible for her ordeal, as well as the U.S. government for providing funding and training to the Philippine military. Reports by the United Nations, Amnesty International, Philippine-based human rights organization Karapatan, and Human Rights Watch have overwhelmingly concluded that the Philippine military is responsible for systematically carrying out human rights violations such as abduction, torture and extra-judicial killings against innocent civilians. Nearly $1 billion worth of U.S. military aid and materiel has been granted to the Philippines since 1999, the year the U.S.- Philippines Visiting Forces Agreement was enacted.

The experience of Ms. Roxas is considered typical for the 200 cases of abduction and 1,010 cases of torture recorded since Gloria Macapagal Arroyo became president of the Philippines in 2001. The Philippine government’s quick denial of responsibility for Ms. Roxas’ abduction and torture is also considered a typical response; in his 2007 report on the Philippines, U.N. Special Rapporteur Philip Alston cited such systematic denial by the government as one of the primary obstacles to stopping the rampant human rights violations plaguing the country. In his 2009 follow-up report, Alston indicated a general failure of the Arroyo government to stop the persistent human rights violations. In April 2009, the UN Committee Against Torture (UNCAT) also released a report detailing the use of torture by the Philippine military.

At the press conference, Ms. Roxas’ legal counsel, Attorney Arnedo Valera, will explain the potential legal remedies that are being explored, including the filing of a tort action in U.S. Federal Court for punitive and compensatory damages against her identified assailants or the Arroyo government in the absence of named assailants; the lodging of a private complaint before the U.S. Department of State, Human Rights Desk against the Philippine government for the violation of the fundamental rights of a U.S. citizen; and the filing of a complaints before the appropriate U.N. agencies for violations of the International Covenant Against Torture, the Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and the U.N. Declaration of Human Rights.

The press conference will be held in Los Angeles, CA and broadcast live on the website www.bayan.ph. Media in the Philippines will be hosted simultaneously by Bayan Philippines and will be able to ask questions in real time. The U.S.-based press conference is sponsored by the Justice for Melissa Roxas Campaign, whose membership includes Ms. Roxas’ legal counsel, BAYAN-USA, GABRIELA USA, Katarungan Center for Peace, Justice and Human Rights, and the National Alliance for Filipino Concerns. ###

For those who have missed the live feed of Melissa’s Press Conference here are the recorded videos:

Repost:

ACT condemns killing of anti-chacha peasant leader

The Alliance of Concerned Teachers today denounced the killing of peasant leader Fermin Lorico in Dumaguete City yesterday.

Lorico was shot in the back of the head by unidentified gunmen soon after speaking at an anti-charter change rally at 4 p.m. yesterday. He was the leader of the Kahugpongan alang sa Ugma sa Gagmay’ng Mag-uuma sa Oriental Negros (Kaugmaon), a militant peasant group affiliated with the Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP). Lorico was a national council member of the KMP.

In April, Lorico was in Manila to participate in the 54-day camp-out held by the KMP outside the Batasang Pambansa to push for the passage of the Genuine Agrarian Reform Bill.

“We denounce the assassination of Ka Fermin Lorico. We hold the Mrs. Gloria Arroyo and her government responsible for this horrendous act targeting a prominent critic of Malacañang, committed on the very day of nationwide protests against her administration’s move to change the Constitution. It shows once again that this regime will stop at nothing to maintain its hold on power,” said ACT national chairperson Antonio Tinio.

“Ka Fermin is a martyr of the peasants’ struggle for land as well as the people’s struggle against the establishment of an Arroyo dictatorship through Charter change. We call on all those opposed to Arroyo’s cha-cha to join us in demanding justice for Ka Fermin and all other victims of extrajudicial killings, disappearances, and torture under this regime,” he added.

Tinio pointed out that two national officers of ACT have also been victimized by extrajudicial killings in recent years, Vitoria Samonte of Surigao del Sur in 2005 and Napoleon Pornasdoro of Quezon in 2006. Their murderers have yet to be brought to justice. #

Goodbye, Ka Fermin

Fellow farmers and supporters pay tribute to slain peasant leader Ka Fermin Lorico as he was brought to his final resting place in Bayawan City, Oriental Negros, Saturday. “Ang pagkamatay sa isang bayani tulad ni Ka Fermin ay nagpapasiga ng sulo, isang libong sulo na lumiliyab sa bawat isa sa atin sa paghahanap ng katarungan at pagpapatuloy ng pakikibakang kanyang nasimulan,” Danilo “Ka Daning” Ramos, secretary-general of Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas, tearfully said during Lorico’s tribute.
(Photo courtesy of Kaugmaon-KMP)
(Bulatlat.com)

Dearest Friends,

The recent birth of my niece reminds me that life is something more than just presence, it is the earth rising inside of you, the earth that has been there since the beginning, but taking a different form.

I started to think about all the other babies I had seen as a community health worker in the Philippines before my niece was born. The marking of before and after, beginnings and endings. I remember their mothers taking them in for health screenings and basic check ups. Infants who went untreated for days with a fever, the softness in their eyes gives way to a hardness, their skin was tight from dehydration, they were so tiny, their hand in mine was as little as my thumbnail. I remember how much I wanted them to get better and be alive. With so many babies, children and families that I’ve met, I realized that the disease they had was more than an epidemic of typhoid fever, cholera, or malaria, it was the disease of poverty and oppression.

When I started to work more with particular issues of human rights violations I also met different babies, babies and children who had lost their mothers and fathers to a different death. A horrible and preventable death that takes the life not only of its victim, but robs the whole family and the world of their presence, all because they advocated and fought for a better world where their children have genuine freedom, a just peace, and true democracy.

Each day I was with the community, I learned how precious a birth can be, how to appreciate life, and I slowly began to understand what they meant when they whispered me their names and told their stories. There are no deaths that are forgotten, no fathers, no mothers, no sisters and brothers, aunts, uncles, or cousins that are forgotten. They live in the births of new babies each day.

When my own experience of abduction and torture ended and I was reunited with my family it was not a second birth for me, I realized that it is a continuing journey for the search for truth and justice. Repressive governments and military use torture as a form of control, to instill fear in people in debilitating ways, so they stay quiet and lose their light inside. But I realized no amount of pain or suffering or fear can stop that earth in me to keep rising. Instead it gave birth to new births. My experience has convinced me even more of the value of freedom and justice and the importance of fighting for and upholding the principles of human rights and human dignity.

Me being able to write this right now is testimony of how your collective love, support, prayers, and action is helping me and others like me through this experience. I know that your support is also part of a larger movement to create change towards a world free of poverty and oppression. Thank you to friends and family, family and friends of other desaparecidos, progressive people’s organizations, human rights groups, lawyers, civil rights advocates, church people’s organizations, concerned individuals, fellow poets and artists, and all believers in human rights and justice.

There are many more desaparecidos, more abductions, torture and extra-judicial killings going on in the Philippines and around the world. Let the new birth come where there is an end to all of the killings, abductions, and torture. Let the noise come from all directions—they are no longer whispers but shouts for justice.

Love,
Melissa Roxas

***

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RELATED LINKS

Affidavit
http://media.inquirer.net/inquirer/media/mraffidavit.pdf

Supreme Court petition for the Writ of Amparo
http://media.inquirer.net/inquirer/media/Petition-woa.pdf

American Woman Is Freed After Philippines Abduction – 05/25/2009
http://www.nytimes.com/2009/05/26/world/asia/26phils.html

Soldiers ‘Abducted, Tortured’ Fil-Am Activist – 06/02/2009
http://www.bulatlat.com/main/2009/06/02/soldiers-tortured-filipino-american-activist/

US-trained and funded Philippine military implicated in abduction and torture of American citizen: Alliance of Filipino American organizations vows to hold US and Philippine governments accountable and demands end to US taxpayer support for Philippine military – 06/02/2009
http://bayanusa.org/?p=234

Karapatan (Alliance for the Advancement of People’s Rights)
http://karapatan.org

Philippine Embassy

News Release

04 June 2009

PRESS STATEMENT

EXEC. SEC. EDUARDO R. ERMITA

Presidential Spokesman

04 June 2009

Alston acknowledges RP progress on human rights in follow-up report

Prof. Philip Alston, United Nations Special Rapporteur on extra judicial killings, acknowledged the progress in the Philippine government’s and the Arroyo administration’s promotion and protection of human rights in the country in his presentation of his follow-up report yesterday (June 3) to the Human Rights Council in Geneva, Switzerland.

In his oral statement before the United Nations body, Alston clearly acknowledged that the number of unexplained killings in the Philippines “has fallen dramatically by 70%” since his visit in 2007.

He also mentioned that the Philippine Human Rights Commission has been reinvigorated, a major and “highly credible” investigation of the alleged death squads in Davao has been opened, and “the Government continues to announce new initiatives designed to reduce the number of killings and identify those responsible.”

The Philippines, through its Permanent Mission to the United Nations in Geneva, noted Prof. Alston’s follow-up report. The Permanent Mission submitted to the Human Rights Council a detailed response in writing to Prof. Alston’s follow-up report prepared by the Presidential Human Rights Committee.

During the interactive dialogue in the Human Rights Council, the Philippine delegation shared news reports validating that the New People’s Army was behind a number of extrajudicial killings in the Philippines.

The Philippine delegation stated that such proof was “indicative of the consistent pattern of deception used by rebel groups where the armed wing conducts extra judicial killings, forced disappearances and other violations of humanitarian law, while the political arm puts the blame on the government.”

In its follow-up report, the Presidential Human Rights Committee revealed that atrocities committed by the Communist New People’s Army against innocent civilians and communities remain rampant. Data from various sources revealed that from January 2008 up to May 2009 alone, there were 235 cases of atrocities, broken down into 171 cases in 2008 and 64 in the first quarter of 2009.

These figures involve 120 cases of murder and liquidation of suspected government informers, non-payers of so-called revolutionary taxes, and civilian non-sympathizers; 64 arson incidents involving buses, trucks, bulldozers and other construction equipment, and cellular phone sites; 21 cases of forced disarmament of armed personnel; 18 cases of extortion and harassment of small businessmen and professionals; and 12 cases of abduction of military and police personnel, and civilian non-sympathizers.

Prof. Alston presented a number of reports to the 11th session of the Human Rights Council, including those on his visits to other countries, and not just the Philippines.

————————–

Reference:

Consul Gines Gallaga

Press and Information Office

Email: ggallaga@cox.net

Tel: 202-467-9432