MANILA, Philippines?Filipino-American activist Melissa Roxas is scheduled to arrive in Manila Monday night to testify before the Court of Appeals that military agents abducted and tortured her in May, the militant Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan) said Sunday.
The Commission on Human Rights (CHR) will provide Roxas with protective custody upon her request, Bayan secretary general Renato Reyes told the Philippine Daily Inquirer Sunday.
Reyes said Roxas, a member of the US chapter of Bayan, would show that her disappearance from May 19 to May 25 and her torture at the hands of the military were not stage-managed as stated by government lawyers.
Roxas? appearance before the appellate court on July 30 would also keep her petition for writ of amparo from getting archived.
The writ of amparo is a special legal instrument issued by the Supreme Court to protect people whose rights have been violated by government activities or acts of omission.
The appellate court?s Special 16th Division has ruled that it would archive the case if Roxas failed to show up at the hearing. She did not appear at two previous hearings.
The last hearing in late June was held a day after Roxas held an emotional news conference in Los Angeles, California, in which she said that her tormentors had tried to suffocate her by pulling plastic bags over her head. It was the first time she spoke about her abduction and torture in a public forum.
Intent to pursue case
?Roxas? return shows a serious intent to pursue her case. She is determined to seek justice for the human rights abuses committed against her and her companions Juanito Carabeo and John Edward Handoc,? Reyes said in a statement.
Reyes said Roxas would face head on the denials by the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP).
?We hail her courage in returning to the Philippines. Her determination to prove that she was abducted and tortured should put to rest claims by the military that the whole thing was fabricated,? he added.
Bayan earlier said that based on Roxas? account, she was detained at a military camp in Nueva Ecija, presumably Fort Magsaysay.
The AFP welcomed the report that Roxas would return to the country.
?(W)e can now be assured of due process because we are also going after the truth,? the AFP spokesperson, Lt. Col. Romeo Brawner Jr., said Sunday.
The military earlier denied its involvement in the abduction of Roxas, saying that her accusations were ?scripted? to make it appear that her abductors were members of the AFP.
But it has nonetheless affirmed its cooperation and compliance with court procedures when Roxas filed a formal complaint in court.
Roxas said she was visiting the Philippines under an ?exposure program? when she, along with Carabeo and Handoc, was abducted by men she believed to be military agents in La Paz, Tarlac, on May 19. She said she was tortured during her abduction.
Roxas filed a petition for writ of amparo in the Supreme Court that gave due course to the petition by referring it to the Court of Appeals.
Saying that it was difficult to merely rely on pure allegations, Brawner pointed out that the military also wanted to get to the bottom of Roxas? accusations.
Brawner said Maj. Gen. Ralph Villanueva, commander of the 7th Infantry Division, had declared that if he found anyone among his men involved in the abduction and torture of Roxas, he would turn them over for prosecution.
Roxas said at the press conference in Los Angeles that she was told by her interrogators that she was abducted because she was a member of the New People?s Army (NPA), the armed wing of the Communist Party of the Philippines.
She denied the accusation, saying she was just a writer and volunteer.
United Methodist Church
Roxas will arrive in Manila from the United States accompanied by a delegation from the California-Nevada Conference of the United Methodist Church. The delegation will conduct a human rights fact-finding mission, according to the Bayan statement.
The group said this was the same church group that campaigned against extrajudicial killings and lobbied the US Senate in 2007.
?We will do everything we can to keep Roxas safe. At the same time, however, this demonstrates that there is a need to overhaul the witness protection program in the Philippines,? CHR Chair Leila de Lima said in a separate statement.
End culture of impunity
Roxas will also testify at the CHR?s own investigation at a public hearing set for July 23.
?The culture of impunity in the Philippines must be brought to an end. These individuals and groups who carry out abductions and torture must be held to account. The government must take meaningful action to protect human rights in the Philippines, not merely in statements and on paper, but also in reality,? De Lima said.
The UN Committee Against Torture expressed grave concern in May that perpetrators of torture in the Philippines, including the military and the police, as well as senior officers, were operating under ?a climate of impunity.?
There have been at least 1,010 cases of torture and 1,013 victims of extrajudicial killings since President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo came to power in 2001, according to the local human rights group Karapatan. During that period, there have been 202 victims of enforced disappearances, it said.
At the appellate court?s hearing in June, Dr. Geneve Rivera-Reyes testified on the injuries Roxas obtained as a result of her being tortured.
Arnedo Valera, Roxas? lawyer in the United States, earlier said his client would seek damages in a US federal court against the Philippine government.
Valera said his group would also file a complaint with the US Department of State and the United Nations.