#Human Rights
US President Barack Obama; US Embassy in Manila; US State Dept.; US Senator Barbara Boxer


An Open Letter of Concern

To: US President Barack Obama; US Ambassador to the Philippines Kristie A. Kenney; US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton; US Senator Barbara Boxer; and California State Assemblywoman Jackie Goldberg

We, the undersigned, seek to register our grave concern and call for immediate action over the recent abduction of a Filipina-American woman from Los Angeles named Melissa Roxas, 32, in the Philippines.

Melissa was abducted along with two others, Juanito Carabeo and John Edward Handoc, last May 19th at around 1:30pm in Sitio Bagong Sikat, Bgy. Kapanikian, La Paz, Tarlac. Based on reports filed by the human rights group Karapatan and the La Paz police, Roxas and her companions were taken by at least 8 fully-armed, bonnet-clad men on board two motorcycles and a Besta van without any plate numbers.

Though Melissa and Juanito have since surfaced on May 25th, John Edward Handoc remains missing. But even so, the fight for justice is far from over. Melissa's abductors still roam free and unprosecuted in the Philippines.

Melissa is a US citizen living in the Philippines.

Before moving to the Philippines in 2007 to pursue human rights work, Melissa was a known writer-poet and community organizer in Los Angeles. She was one of the founding members of Habi Ng Kalinangan, or Habi Arts, a well-respected cultural organization in Los Angeles whose mission is to "promote political and artistic empowerment to inspire and mobilize people for progressive social change." Through leaders like Melissa, Habi Arts emerged from being an artists group to a community organization, with deep ties to the local Filipino and artists community in Southern California. Such projects as community photography workshops and Philippine history workshops illustrate Habi Arts' commitment to community service in addition to artistic expression.

In 2005, Melissa was selected by her peers to represent the entire Southern California region of BAYAN USA, the largest and most progressive alliance of Filipino social justice organizations in the United States. In her capacity, Melissa coordinated BAYAN USA campaigns in the Los Angeles region centering around human rights, civil liberties, US war and militarization, and comprehensive immigration reform.

Also in 2005, Melissa represented Habi Arts and BAYAN USA during an international fact-finding mission to investigate rampant human rights violations in the Philippines, where she visited the province of Mindoro Oriental, a region known for rampant extrajudicial killings of civilian activists and human right advocates. During this mission, Melissa carefully and sensitively documented the stories she heard from families of victims of human rights violations committed by the Philippine military. Her work was later used as community education materials for Habi Arts and BAYAN USA.

Melissa was also able to open doors with elected officials such as California State Assemblywoman Jackie Goldberg, with whom she communicated with about the human rights crisis in the Philippines.

After several other subsequent trips to the Philippines, Melissa made the brave and noble decision to move to the Philippines to do full-time human rights work. At the time of her abduction, Melissa was part of a volunteer health worker delegation providing free community service.

Human rights workers and defenders are amongst the hardest hit by political repression in the Philippines. Since 2001, more than 1000 civilians in the Philippines-- including lawyers, church workers, students, journalists, trade unionists, women and others expressing criticism over the policies of the Arroyo government-- have been killed. Another 300 have been abducted and are still missing. These acts of repression have been publicly identified by the United Nations, Amnesty International, the World Council of Churches, and Human Rights Watch as being entirely politically-motivated, and enough documentary evidence produced by human rights monitoring groups proves the perpetrators to be the Philippine military. Moreover, several accounts of extreme maltreatment and torture of detainees at the hands of the Philippine military have also been brought to the fore by former political prisoners in the Philippines.

In 2007, a strong push from churches in the United States and Filipino-American groups culminated in a US Senate hearing on the situation in the Philippines, eventually leading to the tying of a portion of the 2008 US military aid package to the Philippine government to the implementation specific recommendations on human rights by UN Special Rapporteur on Extra-Judicial Killings Philip Alston.

Unfortunately, the Arroyo administration has not implemented the recommendations until now, and the human rights violations including abductions and extra-judicial killings have continued unabated. The case of Melissa Roxas illustrates the need for more pressure from the international community, and in particular the U.S. government which continues to provide aid to the Arroyo administration.

In this respect, we seek immediate action on your part as our legislative representatives and elected officials for the following:

1. To conduct an official investigation on the triple abduction of Melissa Roxas, Juanito Carabeo and John Edward Handoc.

2. To demand the Philippine government conduct an official search mission for the still-missing John Edward Handoc.

3. To issue a public letter denouncing the abduction of Melissa Roxas, Juanito Carabeo and John Edward Handoc.

4. To issue a strong demand to the Arroyo government, Philippine Department of National Defense, and the Armed Forces of the Philippines to arrest and prosecute the abductors of Melissa Roxas, Juanito Carabeo, and John Edward Handoc to the fullest extent of the law.

While we continue to pray for the best, we call upon our elected officials to strongly advocate on Melissa's behalf.

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The Surface Filipina-American Activist Melissa Roxas Now petition to US President Barack Obama; US Embassy in Manila; US State Dept.; US Senator Barbara Boxer was written by Bernadette Ellorin and is in the category Human Rights at GoPetition.