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Melissa Roxas: An example of women’s power

Published Mar 17, 2010 5:41 PM

A long-standing tactic that oppressors use to stop the struggle for liberation is repression. It mainly backfires on them. As the age-old but accurate slogan declares, “Repression breeds resistance.”

This is exactly how to describe the case of Melissa Roxas.

Roxas is a Filipina activist living in the U.S. who organizes solidarity for the people of the Philippines. On a fact-finding trip to the Philippines last year, she was detained by the military, held for six days and tortured.

Her case is proof that people will resist oppression no matter what. But it is also an expression of the intense fierceness that women warriors display every day of their lives. It is a fierceness that is so often hidden or disparaged, but it is there.

When you first meet Melissa, she comes across as a shy and quiet person. Then you hear her story and realize the depth of her incredible strength. She is one of countless women from around the world whose courage is so profound that the South African adage “You have touched a woman, you have struck a rock, you will be crushed” truly comes to life.

Last May 25 Roxas was abducted at gunpoint in Quezon City, Philippines. She was held for six days and was brutally tortured. Melissa was in the country conducting community surveys in preparation for a volunteer medical mission in a rural town.

The U.S.-backed Philippine government was trying to quiet her. But Melissa courageously continues to organize not only in behalf of her people but in denouncing what happened to her.

At a Jan. 30 public meeting on the Philippines in New York City, Melissa brought the audience to tears with her remarks. She told the crowd, “It is often hard, even now, to talk about my experience. But the reason why I tell my story is because it is also the story of many others. Not all of them have surfaced, not all of them have survived, and those who did have been afforded very few opportunities to speak about what happened to them.

“It is hard for survivors to speak out,” she says, “because most are still harassed by the military and police and threatened. Because of this, many incidents of torture have not been officially reported. Torture survivors, like myself, also find it very hard because every time I talk about the experience it is like reliving it again. Even the mere mention of torture brings back memories.”

She continues in a low but stirring voice, “But because many more have been silenced and because the main objective of torture is to silence and to debilitate people, it is important to speak out. I also know that very few people in the U.S. know how grave the human rights situation is in the Philippines.”

Melissa points out that the main culprit is the U.S.-backed 7th Infantry Division of the Armed Forces.

In 2009 the Philippine Supreme Court granted a writ of protection to Roxas and authenticated her claim of abduction and torture.

Unfortunately, the same court ruling denied the request for an investigation of Fort Magsaysay, the alleged camp where Roxas was detained.

People’s lawyer Leonard Weinglass has joined Roxas’ legal team which is helping her pursue justice in international courts and filing complaints with the U.S. State Department as well as the United Nations.

In a long-standing policy, the U.S. government has not condemned the human rights abuses in the Philippines. On the contrary, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton visited the country recently and expressed U.S. support for the highly repressive Philippine government and military.

As Weinglass stated in the same meeting, the only solution to bringing justice in the case of Melissa Roxas and all the people of the Philippines is to organize. The New York Committee for Human Rights in the Philippines has an ongoing campaign for justice. To find out how you can help, email [email protected]

On the anniversary of International Working Women Day, Melissa’s words inspire us to resist. She says, “The Philippine military wanted to keep the blindfolds on me. And even months after my ordeal, I still bear the physical marks of that torture. Every time I see those marks on my body, I am reminded of what happened in that dark corner of the world that I had known during those six days in May where dying came so slowly. I will probably have to live my life with those memories, but I refuse to be intimidated. I refuse to be silenced.”

Read her entire talk at www.workers.org/2010/world/melissa_roxas_0325.