Aussie nun ‘un­de­sir­able’ af­ter decades help­ing poor


A 71-year- old Aus­tralian Catholic nun who has spent al­most three decades fight­ing for the rights of the poor in The Philip­pines has been ar­rested in Manila on charges of il­le­gal po­lit­i­cal ac­tiv­ity and threat­ened with de­por­ta­tion as an “un­de­sir­able alien”.

Sis­ter Pa­tri­cia Fox, a mem­ber of the in­ter­na­tional Sis­ters of our Lady Sion mis­sion­ary, was de­tained on Mon­day for breach­ing her visa con­di­tions by al­legedly at­tend­ing a po­lit­i­cal rally in the southern state of Min­danao, which has been un­der mar­tial law since last May when ISIS mil­i­tants seized the city of Marawi.

She was re­leased yes­ter­day af­ter­noon and now has 10 days to re­spond to charges that she breached the con­di­tions of her mis­sion­ary res­i­dency visa by al­legedly at­tend­ing po­lit­i­cal ral­lies, af­ter which she faces pos­si­ble de­por­ta­tion.

Hu­man rights ac­tivists say her ar­rest is part of a sus­tained cam­paign of ha­rass­ment by the Duterte ad­min­is­tra­tion against for­eign hu­man rights work­ers.

In Fe­bru­ary, The Philip­pines Jus­tice Depart­ment pe­ti­tioned the courts for a UN spe­cial rap­por­teur on the rights of indige­nous peo­ple, Vic­to­ria Tauli Carpuz, to be de­clared a ter­ror­ist af­ter she pub­licly ap­pealed for the end of abuses in Min­danao against indige­nous peo­ple dis­placed by mil­i­tary op­er­a­tions.

An­other UN spe­cial rap­por­teur on ex­tra­ju­di­cial killings, Agnes Cal­la­mard, was tar­geted in ex­ple­tive-laden tirades by Pres­i­dent Ro­drigo Duterte for her crit­i­cism of the coun­try’s war on drugs, which rights groups es­ti­mate has killed as many as 12,000 peo­ple.

News of Sis­ter Pa­tri­cia’s ar­rest and de­ten­tion on Mon­day night, when she was forced to sleep on the floor of a se­cu­rity of­fice, drew more than 100 pro­test­ers yes­ter­day to the gates of the Bu­reau of Im­mi­gra­tion head­quar­ters to de- mand her re­lease. A for­mer lawyer with Mel­bourne’s Broad­mead­ows Le­gal Aid Cen­tre, Sis­ter Pa­tri­cia told The Aus­tralian yes­ter­day by phone that she had been asked by six im­mi­gra­tion of­fi­cials to come to the Im­mi­gra­tion Bu­reau head­quar­ters on Mon­day to “clar­ify” some de­tails of her visa sta­tus but was told on ar­rival that she was be­ing de­tained.

Sis­ter Pa­tri­cia de­nied ever tak­ing part in po­lit­i­cal ral­lies but said “as a re­li­gious sis­ter we are com- pelled to stand by the poor and the op­pressed”.

“I have not done any­thing dif­fer­ent than what I have been do­ing here for 27 years. I have been in­volved for many years with the rights of indige­nous peo­ple and farm­ers, their rights to land, sup­port­ing the de­vel­op­ment of or­ganic farm­ing,” she said.

Sis­ter Pa­tri­cia has lived and worked in The Philip­pines for 27 years on a mis­sion­ary visa and is well-known for her ad­vo­cacy work with some of the coun­try’s poor­est and most dis­ad­van­taged com­mu­ni­ties, in­clud­ing Filipino sub­sis­tence farm­ers and indige­nous com­mu­ni­ties.

Cristina Pal­abay from the Kara­p­atan Al­liance for the Ad­vance­ment of Peo­ple’s Rights, which has ap­pointed two lawyers to de­fend her, said she be­lieved the nun was tar­geted for hav­ing re­cently joined an in­ter­na­tional factfind­ing mis­sion into al­leged hu­man rights vi­o­la­tions com­mit- ted un­der mar­tial law and counter-in­sur­gency op­er­a­tions in Min­danao. She said au­thor­i­ties pre­sented pho­tographs of Sis­ter Pa­tri­cia at an im­mi­gra­tion hear­ing on Mon­day night at­tend­ing what they claimed were po­lit­i­cal ral­lies in Min­danao, but which Sis­ter Pa­tri­cia says were taken dur­ing the fact-find­ing mis­sion.

“Sis­ter Pa­tri­cia has ded­i­cated her life to the poor and it is lam­en­ta­ble that the gov­ern­ment is do­ing stuff like this,” Ms Pal­abay said.

“We think this is part of a clear plan of the Duterte ad­min­is­tra­tion to in­tim­i­date and ha­rass in­ter­na­tional hu­man rights work­ers who look into re­ports of abuses here. The gov­ern­ment says there are no ex­tra­ju­di­cial killings and it is ex­er­cis­ing its sovereign right to deny in­ter­na­tional ac­tors en­try into the coun­try for in­de­pen­dent in­ves­ti­ga­tions, but these are all ways by which they hide the ugly truth — the spi­ralling cli­mate of im­punity in this coun­try.”


Aus­tralian nun Pa­tri­cia Fox is es­corted by im­mi­gra­tion of­fi­cers as she is re­leased from de­ten­tion in Manila yes­ter­day

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