A 71-year-old Australian nun who has been doing charity work in the Philippines for more than two decades was detained for more than 24 hours by Philippine authorities, officials said Tuesday
Immigration agents on Monday detained Sister Patricia Fox, who belongs to the Sisters of Our Lady of Sion, for allegedly being an undesirable alien. She was picked up Monday and freed Tuesday after her case gained traction on social media.
Her peers said she was targeted for joining protest actions against extrajudicial killings in President Rodrigo Duterte’s war on drugs.
“I’ve been joining pro-human rights rallies for the farmers for their land rights, to release political prisoners,” Fox said after her release.
“If you call it political, I call it part of our duty as the religious to support and stand for the poor. I haven’t joined political rallies in terms of party politics, but I have been active in human rights issues,” she said.
“After 27 years this was how they treat me? I’ve been here since 1990,” she said.
Bureau of Immigration lawyer Arvin Cesar Santos said Fox allegedly took part in protests by farmers but was not doing so on Monday when she was detained.
Santos explained that under immigration rules, Fox would be required to undergo preliminary investigation to determine if deportation charges should be filed before the bureau’s board of commissioners.
Fox’s lawyer, Jobert Ilarde Pahilga, confirmed the Australian nun held a valid missionary visa. He called the case against her pure harassment.
The government intelligence agency had complained about Fox being seen in anti-government protests and submitted a photo showing her joining protests in the southern city of Tagum as evidence.
Sen. Nancy Binay challenged immigration officials for going after a nun who was not a threat to national security.
She accused the immigration bureau of applying excessive authority in arresting Fox and “acted on a mistaken perception plucked from an imaginary threat.”
“The question is, how can a 71-year-old nun be a threat to society,” asked Binay, chairwoman of the Senate’s committee on social justice.
“What poses as threats to people and society are drugs, terrorism and sex offenders. Being a Christian nation, we welcome foreign observers and religious missionaries to stay in the country as long as they comply with existing laws,” she said.
The immigration bureau should not abuse its powers as a political tool to crush dissent, the senator said.
Cristina Palabay of the rights group Karapatan said Fox would continue to cooperate with authorities.
“But clearly, her arrest and detention show the contempt of the Duterte regime on human rights activists working for justice and accountability and those supporting the plight of peasants, workers, indigenous people and the urban poor,” Palabay said in statement.
The Promotion of Church People’s Response also condemned the arrest, adding that the Australian nun should instead be thanked for protecting the rights and dignity of the marginalized poor.
Duterte has faced mounting pressure from international groups questioning his crackdown on drug addicts and syndicates.
The killings of three teenagers last year forced his government to temporarily remove police from the lead role in the operation, only to have officers resume oversight in December.
Police said more than 4,000 have been killed in Duterte’s drug war, surpassing the number of activists killed during the two decade regime of dictator Ferdinand Marcos who was ousted in 1986. But rights groups said the death toll could be more than 10,000 when killings by pro-government vigilantes are included in the count.
Responding to complaints, the International Criminal Court began a preliminary investigation into Duterte and his police. The president initially welcomed the investigation, but later withdrew the country’s membership to an international treaty that created the ICC.
Felipe Villamor in Manila contributed to this report.