Woman tortured in Philippines lives to tell story

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Natural disasters in the Philippines are just about the only things that make the outside world sit up and take notice. Torture, executions and disappearances that regularly occur there go unnoticed, say human rights advocates.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 18/05/2010 (4583 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Natural disasters in the Philippines are just about the only things that make the outside world sit up and take notice. Torture, executions and disappearances that regularly occur there go unnoticed, say human rights advocates.

That’s why a woman who survived the torture is travelling across Canada telling her story.

"I’m alive to talk about it," said Melissa Roxas, 32, who stopped in Winnipeg on Monday. She still has scars from the metal handcuffs and a bad shoulder from beatings that happened a year ago.

RUTH.BONNEVILLE@FREEPRESS.MB.CA Melissa Roxas shares her harrowing experience with Winnipeg students.

The native of Los Angeles was volunteering in La Paz in Tarlac province conducting health surveys May 19 last year when she and two others were abducted by men in civilian clothing.

"I was saying my name and refusing to get in the van," said Roxas. "They were accusing me of being a rebel," said the American citizen.

"I was blindfolded and handcuffed." She said they took her to what she sensed was a military base. "I was beaten, suffocated and slapped," said the human rights advocate, who has an uncle along with many other relatives in the Philippines.

"They had plastic bags over my head repeatedly. They threatened me. They banged my head against the wall till I lost consciousness. At one point, they were putting things in my food… I thought they were going to kill me."

She stayed handcuffed and blindfolded in a "filthy" cell with a small urinal, a wooden board to sleep on and male guards who beat and humiliated her. Six days after she was abducted, she was told she was being transferred to another facility. "I was preparing to die."

She knew about the hundreds of politically motivated killings and disappearances in the Philippines outlined in a 2008 United Nations report. She figured she was next.

Luckily, Roxas was wrong.

"They dropped me off down the street near my uncle’s house."

She later learned human rights groups lobbied for her release. Her American citizenry also helped, she said.

A year later, she still struggles with the trauma and some survivor guilt.

"I was able to leave. I met a lot of families of the disappeared who are still missing." Those citizens of the Philippines don’t have a voice because people are too afraid to speak out about the disappearances. They’re stuck in silence, she said.

"They don’t have the option, like me, to leave," said Roxas, who spoke to St. John’s High School students Monday about human rights.

She’s touring major Canadian citizens with the creators of the Filipino film Dukot! (Abduct!) to raise awareness of extra-judicial arrest, torture and execution in the Philippines.

At the screening in Winnipeg, home to thousands of Filipino-Canadians, people were "sympathetic and shocked," said Roxas. Talking about it still a "taboo" here, she said. "Maybe there’s a lot of fear because they have family back home. Or there’s fear you’ll get labelled a rebel or subversive."

She hopes they’ll find the courage to go to bat for the rights of people back home and demand the new government elected last week respects human rights.

"The Philippines’ government is sensitive to how they look to other countries."

carol.sanders@freepress.mb.ca

Carol Sanders

Carol Sanders
Legislature reporter

After 20 years of reporting on the growing diversity of people calling Manitoba home, Carol moved to the legislature bureau in early 2020.

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