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