Update: Melissa Roxas Surfaced but search continues for CARABEO & HANDOC

News Statement
May 24, 2009

Reference: Rhonda Ramiro, Secretary-General, BAYAN USA, email: secgen@bayanusa.org

MELISSA ROXAS’ SURFACING A VICTORY OF THE PEOPLE’S STRUGGLE, BUT THE SEARCH CONTINUES FOR CARABEO & HANDOC– BAYAN USA

The US Chapter of Bagong Alyansang Makabayan, or BAYAN USA, an alliance of 14 Filipino social justice organizations across the United States, is elated to confirm that Filipina-American activist Melissa Roxas, 32, surfaced hours ago in Manila as of Sunday, May 24th. BAYAN USA confirmed this report with the human rights group Karapatan. A detailed account about the circumstances of her surfacing is still forthcoming.

“We are happy to hear about Melissa’s surfacing, but we are still concerned about the whereabouts of her two companions, Juanito Carabeo and John Edward Handoc, who were abducted along with Melissa on May 19th and are still missing to this day,” states BAYAN USA Chair Bernadette Ellorin. “We fully intend to pursue the demand for the surfacing of Carabeo and Handoc, as well as justice for Melissa. This abduction should never have taken place.”

Roxas, Carabeo, and Handoc, all members of a medical mission team in La Paz, Tarlac, were reportedly abducted at gunpoint by at least eight masked men in the middle of the night last week. Upon learning of Roxas, Carabeo, and Handoc’s enforced disappearance, BAYAN USA, along with BAYAN Philippines and Karapatan, exerted strong efforts calling for their immediate surfacing, including releasing an online petition addressed to US elected officials that gathered hundreds of signatures in a matter of hours.

“Because more than five days had passed since their abduction, we believe Melissa’s surfacing is a direct result of rapid community response and international pressure exerted from the Philippines and the United States first and foremost,” Ellorin continued. BAYAN USA in Southern California has also been working closely with Roxas’ family in Los Angeles in their campaign efforts to surface Roxas and her companions in the Philippines.

Roxas, a founding member of the cultural organization Habi-Arts in Los Angeles and founding Southern California Representative for BAYAN USA, went to the Philippines in 2007 to pursue human rights advocacy full-time. Her move was set amidst an acute human rights crisis in the Philippines that includes reports of rampant extrajudicial killings, enforced disappearances, illegal arrest, torture, and summary executions. In 2005, Roxas participated in an international fact-finding mission investigating human rights violations throughout the Philippines under the Arroyo administration.

On Wednesday, May 27th, BAYAN USA member organizations across the United States will be launching actions denouncing the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA), a military pact that allows for the basing of US military troops in over 20 ports throughout the Philippines. Included in these actions will be the call for justice for Melissa Roxas and for the immediate surfacing of Juanito Carabeo and John Edward Handoc. BAYAN USA firmly believes the continuing, unabated human rights violations committed by the Philippine military and death squads are generously funded by US military aid to the Arroyo government. BAYAN USA also ultimately holds the Arroyo government accountable for the pattern of killings and abductions against civilians critical of the regime since 2001.

“As we continue to campaign for justice for Melissa, Juanito, and John Edward, we are consciously raising awareness of the role of US tax dollars in funding these abductions and other human rights violations. There are hundreds more victims of politically-motivated abductions in the Philippines that are still missing to this day,” Ellorin ended. ###

NY TIMES
U.S. Woman Freed After Abduction in Philippines
By CARLOS H. CONDE
Published: May 25, 2009

MANILA — An American woman has been freed five days after armed and hooded men believed to have been military agents abducted her and two other companions in a province north of Manila, her colleagues said Monday.

Melissa Roxas, 31, an activist from Los Angeles who had been doing volunteer health work in Tarlac Province, was kidnapped on May 19 along with two other health volunteers for a nongovernment group.

She “surfaced this morning,” said Renato Reyes Jr., secretary general of the group Bayan, of which Ms. Roxas is a member. Mr. Reyes said it was not yet clear why only Ms. Roxas was freed. The fate of the two other workers, Juanito Carabeo and John Edward Handoc, remained unknown.

It was the first time that an American citizen had fallen victim to what Bayan and human rights groups here call “enforced disappearances,” or the abduction of activists by those suspected of being military agents.

Lt. Col. Romeo Brawner Jr., the spokesman of the armed forces, said the military had received a report on Ms. Roxas’ disappearance but declined to comment. “We are verifying it,” he said.

According to Mr. Reyes, Ms. Roxas and her companions were taken at gunpoint from the village where they were working and shoved into a van without license plates.

Mr. Reyes could not yet say whether Ms. Roxas was harmed by her abductors. “The circumstances of her release are still unknown to us, and there is concern for her safety as well even if she has been released,” he said. Mr. Reyes said that Ms. Roxas was resting with her family in Manila.

Ms. Roxas — who is of Filipino descent — moved to the Philippines in 2007 to pursue “human rights advocacy full-time,” Bernadette Ellorin, a colleague in the United States, said in an e-mail message.

According to the human rights group Karapatan, more than 200 Filipino activists have been kidnapped and never heard from since 2001, the year President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo came to power. Others have turned up dead or showing signs of torture. Groups including Human Rights Watch have said that the disappearances are part of the government’s counterinsurgency campaign against leftist rebels. The military has consistently denied such charges, calling it propaganda by leftist groups sympathetic to the three-decade-old Communist movement in the Philippines.
But the United Nations Human Rights Council, in a report last year prepared by its special rapporteur Philip Alston, called on Ms. Arroyo to institute reforms within the military as well as to investigate thoroughly what Mr. Alston called “credible allegations” that the military was behind most of these killings and abductions. Eduardo Ermita, Ms. Arroyo’s executive secretary and spokesman, called the U.N. rapporteur’s report inaccurate and said Mr. Alston was biased in favor of leftist groups.

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