Manila: Human rights activists and civic groups in the Philippines have called for the release of Australian nun who was arrested for allegedly attending anti-government protests.
Patricia Fox never participated in any anti-government rally when she went to Tagum City in the south, her lawyer Jobert Pahilga insists.
The government suspects she took part in rallies against alleged human rights violations under martial law rule in the southern Philippines, and the death of more than 4,000 since President Rodrigo Duterte’s relentless campaign against illegal drugs trade began since 2016. She has been told she would be deported, activists say.
But supporters say her work involves helping peasants and indigenous people.
“She was illegally arrested and detained,” Karapatan, a rights group, said in a statement on Tuesday.
“Six immigration intelligence officers invited her, on short notice, for random verification of her immigration papers when they went to her house in Quezon City on April 16,” Karapatan said.
“At the Bureau of Immigration in Manila, she was shown a mission order [against her] but was not given a copy of it. Her rights were read to her. There was not any document indicating charges against her, but was told she was being arrested for joining rallies; that she would be detained overnight and deported. Immigration spokesperson Antonette Mangrobang wrongly referred to her as ‘Patricia Cox,’” Karapatan said.
Lawyer Pahilga said, as part of the International Fact Finding and Solidarity Mission (IFFSN), she visited farmer-detainees and Coca Cola workers who were staging strike in Tagum, to document alleged human rights violations against farmers and lumads (indigenous people).
“She wanted to immerse with and help farmers and indigenous people - pursuant to her mission for peace, justice and promotion of human rights of her congregation. These activities are not within the context of prohibited partisan political activities under immigration laws,” Pahilga said.
Others said she had been involved in the country’s devolpment for a long time.
“She has been an agrarian reform and human rights advocate in the Philippines for a long time, helping the poorest of the poor. She is not a criminal nor an undesirable alien,” argued Renato Reyes, secretary general of Alayansang Makabayan, a leftist group, adding that Fox’s reform oriented groups include Union of Agricultural Workers (UMA) and Union for True Agrarian Reform.
“Sister Patricia must be released immediately without conditions,” said Congresswoman Emmi De Jesus of Gabriela Women’s Party. “We expect more church and women rights groups to stand with Sister Patricia at this dark hour,” added Congresswoman Arlene Brosas, Gabriela Women’s Party
Allaying fears, Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra said, “Investigation of her case is still ongoing. Sister Patricia’s case has nothing to do with her being a nun, nor with her personal advocacies.” The state has banned foreign tourists from participating in partisan politics, he added.
President Duterte threatened to arrest officials of the International Criminal Court (ICC) should they come to the Philippines to probe alleged state-sanctioned killings in his campaign against illegal drug trade. The Philippine has formally withdrawn its membership to the ICC.
An Italian political party official was blacklisted and denied entry into the Philippines after he joined in 2017 a fact-finding mission to check on President Duterte’s campaign against illegal drug trade.