Melissa Roxas’s description of the place where she was brought and tortured seemed consistent with what the CHR found during a visit to Fort Magsaysay. But military officials deny soldiers were behind the atrocity. “Fort Magsaysay is a tourist destination,” one of them told the commissioners.
By RONALYN V. OLEA
MANILA – The description by Filipino-American activist Melissa Roxas of the place where she was brought to be tortured and interrogated after her abduction seemed consistent with what a team from the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) saw during an inspection at Fort Magsaysay, a military camp in Nueva Ecija province north of Manila.
This was one of the revelations that came out in today’s CHR hearing of Roxas’s abduction and torture.
Testifying before an en banc CHR, Roxas recalled the incident on May 19 in Barangay Bagong Sikat, La Paz, Tarlac, and reiterated the content of the affidavit she earlier submitted to the Supreme Court.
Roxas also revealed that the beatings “became less” when she told her captors that she is an American citizen.
In the same hearing, military officials denied that elements from the Army’s 7th Infantry Division based in Fort Magsaysay had a hand in Roxas’s abduction and torture.
Roxas recalled that on May 19, while watching television, at least 15 men with long firearms barged into the house where Roxas and her two companions, Juanito Carabeo and John Edward, were staying. The three were dragged into a blue van, handcuffed, blindfolded then brought to a place that took more than hour to reach.
Asked by the commissioners about the place of her detention, Roxas said she heard the sound of planes landing and taking off, shots coming from what sounded like firing ranges and noise from a construction site. She also heard vehicles passing by, she said.
Later, CHR chairperson Leila de Lima told the military officials in the hearing that a CHR team that conducted a surprise visit to Fort Magsaysay on June 10 “saw an airstrip, four firing ranges and a building under construction.”
“We vehemently deny the accusations against us,” said Col. Leonido Bongcawil, who represented Major Gen. Ralph Villanueva, commanding officer of the 7th Infantry Division, at the hearing.
Lt. Col. Herminio Barrios, legal counsel of the 7th ID, said there is no evidence pointing to military men as responsible for Roxas’s fate. He said travel from La Paz, Tarlac, to Fort Magsaysay takes about 30 minutes.
Bongcawil pointed out that that there are 19 more airfields near La Paz, Tarlac.
Bongcawil said it was unfair of Roxas to say that she was held in Fort Magsaysay. “Fort Magsaysay is a tourist destination,” Bongcawil said.
To this, de Lima asked: “If it were a tourist destination, how come we were held 40 minutes [before being allowed to enter]?” Bongcawil said it was part of their “standard operating procedure.”
De Lima said they were not allowed access to some parts of the camp during their inspection.
“Will you allow us unhampered access if we decide to go back to Fort Magsaysay?” de Lima asked Bongcawil. The military officer replied that it’s up to their commanding officer.
But Barrios butted in, saying that such a visit by the CHR will require approval from the AFP chief of staff.
Before being blindfolded, Roxas told the commission that she managed to see the faces of at least two of her abductors, one was wearing a white shirt and the other a maroon shirt.
Inside her jail, peeking through her blindfolds, she could see Rose, one of her interrogators who stayed with her during most of the time of her captivity, Roxas said.
She said she also saw the partially covered faces two more interrogators who introduced themselves as Dex and RC. Roxas said she could describe her abductors.
Two nights before she was released, Roxas said her blindfold was taken off and then Carabeo and Jandoc were brought to her.
Roxas insisted that her captors were members of the military. “They kept telling me that I am a member of the CPP [Communist Party of the Philippines]-NPA [New People’s Army]. I told them I was not. I am a health volunteer and I want access to my lawyer,” she said.