Calls grew on Friday for the Philippines to free a detained African Christian missionary and allow two of his colleagues in the United Methodist Church to leave the country.
An Australian nun who had defied President Rodrigo Duterte urged other church leaders, specifically the influential Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP), to condemn what she said was an apparent crackdown on missionary workers in the country and to intercede on behalf of the religious workers.
“They did not commit any illegal act,” Sister Patricia Fox said Friday, adding that the three Methodist missionaries were doing charity work and were “required to live in solidarity with the poor, the oppressed and the marginalized.”
She noted that part of missionary work requires participation in activities promoting social justice and human rights.
“In contrast, sitting idly, keeping one’s silence, doing nothing, when injustice and oppression is happening directly in one’s eyes, is repugnant to the social doctrines and teaching of the church for salvation and liberation to the poor and powerless,” the 71-year-old nun said.
Fox is fighting a deportation case ordered by Duterte after she was found to have joined street protests against his administration’s drug war which has left thousands of people dead. The justice department, however, had recently ordered the immigration bureau not to carry out the order, pending further review of the case.
Fox made the comments three days after the United Methodist Church (UMC) issued a statement alleging that one if its missionaries, Tawanda Chandiwana of Zimbabwe, was being held at a detention facility in a Manila suburb.
In addition, Philippine authorities had confiscated the passport of fellow missionary, Miracle Osman of Malawi, and had notified another colleague, Adam Shaw of Ohio, that an order for him to leave the country was imminent although it had not been served, UMC officials said.
Chandiwana was detained in May while in the southern city of Davao and was charged with overstaying a 20-month missionary visa, according to the Methodist Church officials.
Osman and Shaw were first questioned in February when they joined a mission to investigate alleged rights abuses in Mindanao, the country’s main southern third that has been under military rule since last year, the UMC said.
Government officials and Philippine police did not respond to BenarNews requests seeking confirmation on Chandiwana’s detention and to clarify whether the other two missionaries were also in custody.
Karapatan, a Philippine human rights group, said the case of the three missionaries demonstrated “the paranoia overdrive of a brutal and repressive regime that has much to hide.
“At the same time, it also shows the Duterte administration’s dire lack of understanding and respect for the right of peoples to extend international solidarity to Filipinos who bear the brunt of this anti-people government,” Karapatan head Cristina Palabay said.
Palabay said her group was calling for Chandiwana’s immediate release and for the missionaries to be allowed to leave the Philippines at once.
“We call on the Duterte administration to stop the harassment and attacks against missionaries and human rights defenders,” Palabay said.
Jeoffrey Maitem in Cotabato City, Philippines, contributed to this report.