U.S. Woman Freed After Abduction in Philippines - NYTimes.com

U.S. Woman Freed After Abduction in Philippines - NYTimes.com: "MANILA — An American woman has been freed five days after armed and hooded men believed to have been military agents abducted her and two other companions in a province north of Manila, her colleagues said Monday.

Melissa Roxas, 31, an activist from Los Angeles who had been doing volunteer health work in Tarlac Province, was kidnapped on May 19 along with two other health volunteers for a nongovernment group.

She “surfaced this morning,” said Renato Reyes Jr., secretary general of the group Bayan, of which Ms. Roxas is a member. Mr. Reyes said it was not yet clear why only Ms. Roxas was freed. The fate of the two other workers, Juanito Carabeo and John Edward Handoc, remained unknown.

It was the first time that an American citizen had fallen victim to what Bayan and human rights groups here call “enforced disappearances,” or the abduction of activists by those suspected of being military agents.

Lt. Col. Romeo Brawner Jr., the spokesman of the armed forces, said the military had received a report on Ms. Roxas’ disappearance but declined to comment. “We are verifying it,” he said."

According to Mr. Reyes, Ms. Roxas and her companions were taken at gunpoint from the village where they were working and shoved into a van without license plates.

Mr. Reyes could not yet say whether Ms. Roxas was harmed by her abductors. “The circumstances of her release are still unknown to us, and there is concern for her safety as well even if she has been released,” he said. Mr. Reyes said that Ms. Roxas was resting with her family in Manila.

Ms. Roxas — who is of Filipino descent — moved to the Philippines in 2007 to pursue “human rights advocacy full-time,” Bernadette Ellorin, a colleague in the United States, said in an e-mail message.

According to the human rights group Karapatan, more than 200 Filipino activists have been kidnapped and never heard from since 2001, the year President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo came to power. Others have turned up dead or showing signs of torture. Groups including Human Rights Watch have said that the disappearances are part of the government’s counterinsurgency campaign against leftist rebels. The military has consistently denied such charges, calling it propaganda by leftist groups sympathetic to the three-decade-old Communist movement in the Philippines.

But the United Nations Human Rights Council, in a report last year prepared by its special rapporteur Philip Alston, called on Ms. Arroyo to institute reforms within the military as well as to investigate thoroughly what Mr. Alston called “credible allegations” that the military was behind most of these killings and abductions. Eduardo Ermita, Ms. Arroyo’s executive secretary and spokesman, called the U.N. rapporteur’s report inaccurate and said Mr. Alston was biased in favor of leftist groups.

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