By RONALYN OLEA
MANILA – When retired Army general Jovito Palparan and anti-communist crusader Pastor Alcover accused Filipino-American activist Melissa Roxas of being a member of the communist New People’s Army, they not only sought to destroy her credibility – they also sent a message that, in the Philippines, dissent can be used by the state to justify torture.
Marie Hilao-Enriquez, the secretary-general of the human-rights group Karapatan, reached this conclusion even as her group, as well as the Commission on Human Rights, sought to emphasize over the past weeks that freedom from torture is a non-derogable right, meaning that states cannot violate this right under any circumstances, even in a state of emergency or martial law.
The Philippines is a signatory to a number of international instruments against torture and against human-rights abuses. This emphasis on freedom from torture as a non-derogable right is particularly significant because the state’s justification of the use of torture – in the case of Roxas, by alleging that she was a guerrilla – undermines whatever commitment it assured the international communist that it respects human rights.
At the continuation of the hearing of the Roxas case before the CHR, Palparan and Alcover both insisted that Roxas was a guerrilla, as proven, they said, by a video that purportedly shows Roxas along with other NPA members participating in a training.
Palparan, representative in Congresss of the party-list group Bantay, had earned the moniker “The Butcher” for the trail of extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances he left behind in the regions where he was assigned, while Alcover represents the party-list group Alliance for Nationalism and Democracy (Anad). Both are self-proclaimed anti-communist crusaders.
In reaction to Palparan and Alcover’s allegation, CHR chairperson Leila de Lima said the affiliation of Roxas, even if it were true, is irrelevant to their investigation. Citing international humanitarian law, de Lima insisted that freedom from torture is a non-derogable right. “Her affiliation doesn’t matter. It is a basic human right,” she said. “Nobody deserves to be tortured, not even prisoners of war.”
De Lima was not the first to point out that affiliation is never an issue when it comes to torture. At the Court of Appeals hearing on July 30, Justice Noel Tijam of the 16th Special Division asked Roxas if she was a member of the NPA. Roxas said no. The TIjam said: “It doesn’t even matter if you are an NPA. Even if you are a criminal, you are entitled to protection.”
The NPA, the armed wing of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP), has been waging a Maoist war in the past four decades.
Roxas, along with Juanito Carabeo and John Edward Jandoc, was forcibly taken by armed men on May 19 in La Paz, Tarlac. Roxas was subjected to psychological and physical torture before being released on May 25. In her affidavit and succeeding public testimonies, Roxas insisted that the military was behind her abduction and torture.
The appellate court conducted its third hearing on the writs of amparo and habeas data filed by Roxas. It will issue its decision within 10 days after the submission of evidence by the two parties. The writ of amparo provides protection for people who feel threatened by the state and the writ of habeas data compels the state to produce any information that they use against an individual or group.
The Philippines is a signatory to the United Nations Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment. It prohibits torture and requires parties to take effective measures to prevent it in any territory under its jurisdiction.