“THERE ARE MANY MELISSAS AND MAITAS”

melissa-front

7 August 2009

BAYAN CANADA, the alliance of progressive Filipino organizations in Canada, is following closely the developments in the Melissa Roxas case. Philippine-born U.S. citizen Melissa Roxas was abducted, tortured and unjustly detained by military agents last May 19, 2009 in the Philippines until international pressure to surface her led to her release after six harrowing days. We are also following Melissa’s appearances before the Philippine government House Committee of Human Rights, the Commission of Human Rights (CHR) and the Philippine Court of Appeals for the Writ of Amparo.

The Melissa Roxas case is of grave concern to us here in Canada because what happened to her is a crime and that those guilty of the crime need to be punished, and punished severely. We are doubly troubled because of the reference to the Canadian citizens and the Canadian government. Melissa stated in her affidavit that one of her interrogators was “asking me what was my position in the organization and I was not answering and he told me, “akala mo ba may magagawa ang Canadian Government sa iyo? [translation ours: Do you think the Canadian government can do anything for you?]” and he called me, “Maita” and I told him that I was not Maita.” [Point 26 in the Affidavit of Melissa Roxas, May 29, 2009].

BAYAN CANADA is concerned because of the brazenness of the statements that revealed the interrogator(s) assumed (and mistaken) information that the woman they were torturing and interrogating was a Canadian citizen. Full of themselves and confident that Melissa may not survive her ordeal, they did not realize that these statements and their criminal acts were recorded in Melissa’s mind and are now part of her affidavit, a public document for everyone to read and to remember that torture is an unwritten official policy of the Philippine military. We have every reason to believe that the same abusive interrogation of Melissa at the hands of the military would have been meted out to this Canadian citizen.

We do not believe that it was a case of mistaken identity because the inhumane and cruel treatment by the military agents on Melissa did not stop in spite of her denials that she was the “Maita” that the interrogators kept on naming her. Nor was she released immediately after she denied that she was  “Maita.” We believe that what happened to Melissa follows the pattern of madness of Philippine President Arroyo’s counter-insurgency plan called Oplan Bantay Laya (Operation Plan Freedom Watch). It was enough that Melissa belonged to BAYAN-USA and that her trip was endorsed by BAYAN-Philippines. It is common knowledge that the military and the government have tagged BAYAN as a “communist front” and thus an “enemy of the State. “ It is public knowledge that other people’s organizations and mass leaders have also been maliciously labeled as “fronts” and “enemies” by the military’s Powerpoint presentation “Know Your Enemy” — these include, among many others, the Kilusang Mayo Uno/ May One Movement, Migrante International, the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines, and the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines.

The fear of critical dissent, the fear of communism, the fear of the truth is what the Arroyo government and its military feeds on. It is this fear — carefully manipulated by government and paid media and carefully cultivated by the military, especially of the likes of soldier-butcher turned politician Jovito Palparan – that strengthens the belief that dissenters, activists, progressives, anti-imperialists, anti-Arroyo protestors, even communists, etc., have forfeited their humanity, and so have forfeited their human rights. They and their groups are vilified, demonized and are regarded, not as human beings, but as less than humans, and somehow to the military’s perverted reasoning and tunnel vision,  not deserving of human rights and are thus treated brutally like animals. The military sees them as dangers to the security of the state and use this to justify their actions. In the process, human rights disappear altogether.

BAYAN CANADA calls on the Canadian government to respond to the arrogant claims of Melissa’s abductors and torturers as stated in her affidavit that the Canadian government will not help in that situation. We ask that the Canadian government give its reassurance that Maita, a Canadian citizen, is protected from any form of targeting by the Philippine military.

We raise this issue because the record of the Canadian government of immediate intervention in previous cases has not been very reassuring; we are referring to the cases of Syrian-born Canadian Maher Arar and Sudanese-born Canadian Abousfian Abdelrazik. The Philippine’s notorious human rights record has been the subject of the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Extra-judicial Killings, Philip Alston’s report on the Philippines, and the United Nations Committee Report Against Torture (2009) which both conclude that the Philippine military employs torture, that it is behind the extra-judicial killings and that a culture of impunity in the military prevails in the Philippines.

However, we have not forgotten Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s statement on January 2007 in reference to the U.S. refusal to take Maher Arar off the US security watch list: “Canada has every right to go to bat for one of its citizens when the government believes a Canadian is being unfairly treated.” [U.S. refuses to take Arar off watch list – CBC News:  http://www.cbc.ca/canada/story/2007/01/26/arar-us.html]

BAYAN CANADA also raises the issue of the safety of Canadian (and other international) participants in solidarity and fact finding missions, medical and relief missions, international observer delegations, etc., as well as the safety and security of our Philippine-based counterparts. There is a strong International solidarity movement for the Philippines’ genuine movement for change and for the Filipino people fighting repression.  This is made concrete with Melissa and her participation in the fact finding and medical missions in the Philippines.

There is not one Melissa. There are many Melissas. Genuine international solidarity for the Philippines must and will continue; this is the people to people solidarity —  of people responding to people across their national boundaries and standing up to be counted against tyranny and evil in the Philippines. This is the spirit well illustrated in the life of Canadian doctor Norman Bethune who concretized internationalism in China during the Chinese Revolution.

There are many Melissas and many Maitas, who are easily made targets by the shaky Arroyo regime is desperate and hell-bent on eliminating and crushing any opposition against her government before her term finally finishes in 2010.

We seek justice for Melissa Roxas and her two other companions. We honour Melissa’s bravery in standing up to her abductors in the Philippines.

We call for the immediate end to extra-judicial killings, enforced disappearances, torture and illegal arrests and detention and an end to the culture of impunity in the Philippines.

We endorse the credibility of the UN Reports on the Philippines, i.e. the Special Rapporteur on Extra-judicial Killings, Philip Alston’s Report (2008) and the Report (2009) of the United Nations Committee Against Torture in the Philippines.

We call for a review of Canadian international aid to the Philippines vis-a-vis the Philippines human rights record and performance.

We call on the Canadian government to respond to the claims of Melissa’s abductors and torturers as stated in her affidavit that the Canadian government will not help in that situation and to give reassurances that Maita, a Canadian citizen, is protected from any form of targeting by the Philippine military.

Bayan Canada

Ref: Beth Dollaga – Bayan Canada National Organizing Committee, bayan.canada.noc@gmail.com

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