An 84-year-old Australian national detained by Philippine immigration authorities denied Monday alleged links with communist insurgents or any terror groups active in the country, including joining political rallies against government’s war on drugs that has left thousands of people dead.
Gill Boehringer, a professor from Australia who also holds an American passport, was prevented entry into Manila last Wednesday. He was charged with violating visa rules for allegedly joining protests against President Rodrigo Duterte’s bloody anti-drug campaign.
The National Intelligence Coordinating Agency (NICA) had also accused him of associating with “communist terror groups.”
“That is preposterous. It seems that in the Philippines today almost anyone can be labelled a terrorist or in association with terrorists. I deny the accusation. I certainly am not a supporter of terrorism from whatever source,” Boehringer told reporters.
He said that in February he did join a trip in the southern Mindanao region to visit a school for primary school children run by a tribal program.
But he said “there was no rally or political activity” there, and the trip was purely for research. Boehringer, a former dean at Macquarie University Law School in Sydney, said he was studying the circumstances for indigenous groups as an academician.
“I believe there is no basis for my exclusion from the Philippines in what was an educational experience for myself, the others who travelled with me into the mountain district, and also, I like to think, for those we met with there,” he said.
Boehringer’s lawyer, Maria Sol Taule, told reporters that the immigration bureau had yet to decide on a request for her client to stay in the country on medical grounds.
Taule said Boehringer still remained at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport on Monday, since his detention last week upon arrival from Sydney to visit his Filipina wife.
But Immigration spokeswoman Dana Krizia Sandoval explained that they denied the visit of the foreigner after he joined an anti-government demonstration in 2015 in violation of an order that prohibits foreigners from participating in political activities in the country.
She denied that the Australian had been detained, emphasizing that the cause of his delay was due to health reasons.
Boehringer said that he had been accused of joining an anti-globalization rally in Manila in November last year. “The charge is false,” he said.
“It is true that as an individual – a devil’s advocate perhaps – I have been a critic of some of the policies and practices of three successive governments since coming to the Philippines as an International Election Observer in 2007 and 2010. Are those the activities of a terrorist? Surely not,” he said.
Deported after investigating alleged abuses
Earlier this year, three foreign activists – an American, and two African missionaries – were deported after visiting the southern Philippines to investigate alleged abuses blamed on the army, particularly the killing in December of at least eight members of an indigenous community in Lake Sebu province.
A fourth missionary, Catholic nun Patricia Fox of Australia, was ordered deported by Duterte himself.
Duterte had been angered by protests led by the Catholic Church questioning his government’s anti-drug war.
Duterte won the presidency two years ago on a vow to rid the country of crime and he has given the police wide latitude in conducting its war on drugs, which he blamed as the root of all crime. More than 4,000 suspected pushers and addicts have died in police encounters, though rights groups say the estimate could go as high as 12,000.
Fox, 71, won a reprieve from the justice department, but the immigration bureau, recently upheld its decision to deport her. She has filed an appeal, but has said that if she loses, she was prepared to leave the country she has served for almost 28 years.
“He has been coming here for years,” Fox said of Boehringer. “On my part, I am still awaiting for response for our motion for reconsideration.”
Felipe Villamor from Manila contributed to this report.