MY NAME is Melissa Roxas. I?m 31 years old. I was born in Manila, but my family immigrated to the United States when I was young, right after Ninoy was assassinated. My parents said there weren?t many economic opportunities available in the Philippines.
Growing up, I knew I was different from other American kids. When I was older and had a chance to return to the Philippines, I noticed I was different here too. I didn?t have a vivid memory of the Philippines, but I remember questioning why we had to be separated ? why we had to leave and immigrate. I wanted to find out more about the world: why there was poverty, why there was inequality. If you asked me what I wanted to be then, I?ll say I knew I wanted to do something that would be important, that would make ? not necessarily an impact ? but something that would make me feel that I was doing something good in the world.
I was already an activist, but I started being involved with Philippine issues much later on. I?ve always felt close to health care issues, and one of the places I remember going to was Payatas. The Philippines I saw in Payatas was very different from the Philippines I saw when my relatives took me around. Ever since that trip I?ve been going back and forth the United States and the Philippines for missions. Being in the Philippines and having that experience means you can?t ignore the human rights aspect of it. People who want to change what?s going on become targets. Many of them are killed, or are disappeared. I started getting involved in human rights missions.
I was in La Paz, Tarlac on May 19, 2009. We had been doing health care surveys in the community, and had slept over. We were just there resting that morning, talking, watching a noontime show.
We heard them at the door.
They are telling us to open it. There is a man wearing a white shirt he is the only one without a bonnet he is telling us to open the door and the door is forced open and they come through the front door come through the back door. There are about 15 men and they have long firearms and bonnets on and they try to push us down on the floor with our faces to the ground. I keep saying no and they push me and start to punch me and they force me to my knees and shove my face to the ground. And then I see Juanito and John Edward and everyone in the house being forced up. And the men tape their mouths, tie blindfolds over eyes. I start resisting. I keep saying my name as hard and as loud as I can. ?Melissa Roxas. Melissa Roxas!? I keep thinking, I don?t want to go with these people.
They started dragging me and there was gravel and my nose was bleeding after they punched me and I saw the van, the van outside, there outside, and I put my foot against the side of the van while they were pushing me in. I was doing everything I could because I didn?t want to get in that van because I knew if I got in that van ? I just didn?t want to get in the van. I kept yelling my name. They couldn?t get the blindfold on me because I kept ripping it off. They pushed me into the van and handcuffed me and that was the only time they could blindfold me but they couldn?t put the tape on my mouth because I was vomiting. They forced my head down because they didn?t want me to see outside. We drove. And I remember thinking that I didn?t want to panic. I had to remember everything, to keep track of time in my own head. I couldn?t see and I was facing the floor and I was vomiting. Then we were pausing. Gravel. Some kind of road and there was a pause, then the van stopped. Then I thought: This is it they?re going to kill us, this is it. They drove a little. Stopped. I thought the same thing. They told me to step down.
They took me into a cramped cell. They didn?t feed me for the first two days, had me drink only once or twice during that time. I just wanted to not lose it. I was trying very hard to keep track. I kept thinking that I had to think and I was terrified and I would peek under my blindfold and I knew there was someone watching.
The interrogation started early. It was almost round the clock. They took me out of the jail cell to that little place just before you reach the screen door. That was where they beat me. That was where they strangled me. They asked me many things. They were accusing me of being a member of the CPP-NPA and I kept saying I was not. I kept saying, My name is Melissa Roxas, and I want access to a lawyer. I want to talk to a lawyer, that?s all I kept saying. They kept trying to tell me I was part of the CPP-NPA. And then I kept saying, just kept saying, kept saying my name and that I want to see a lawyer. And they said even if you?re here a year you?ll never see a lawyer. We got you clean, no one knows you?re here. You?ll never see a lawyer.
The interrogation never ended. It?s hard to say what the worst was, because everything was worst for me because every minute I was there I thought I was going to die. When they were beating me they put a plastic bag over my head and they put on a first one and then a second one and all I kept thinking was I?m going to die and all I saw was white and I was losing my breath and I remember having, thinking ? couldn?t breathe. They started telling me that they were just tools of God to make people return into the fold of the law. And I told them that God can never do that, can never torture people. And I said the only people who can do that are demons. And I told them I didn?t believe them.
I don?t know exactly why I was released. While I was with them I eventually told them that I was a US citizen. Maybe they were afraid of that. They kept telling me, we?re friends right? We?re friends right? You won?t tell anyone what happened?
I don?t want it to happen ever again to anyone, and I want the Philippine government and the Philippine military to be held accountable for what they did to me, and what they are doing to other people. They can?t keep denying it. I am still afraid. Every day, I?m still afraid. But I know what the truth is. I know what happened. I know what I heard. And I know what I saw. And I want to testify.
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Melissa Roxas flew in from the United States last Monday after leaving the country immediately after her release. She returned at the request of the Court of Appeals to testify on her abduction and torture, and is under the protection of the Commission on Human Rights.
ANC?s Storyline features her narrative Sunday at 3:30 p.m.