An African Christian missionary has been detained in the Philippines for more than six weeks while two colleagues, an American and another African, have been barred from leaving the country, church officials said Tuesday.
Tawanda Chandiwana of Zimbabwe was being held at a detention facility in Bicutan, a Manila suburb, according to the U.S.-based United Methodist Church. Chandiwana, who is in his early 20s, was taken into custody in May while in the southern city of Davao and was charged with overstaying his 20-month missionary visa.
“The charge was expanded when he was found to be on a watch list of suspected subversives,” the church’s council of bishops said in a statement. “He denies any wrongdoing and faults a delay in filing visa paperwork.”
Church officials said two other members, Adam Shaw of Brunswick, Ohio, and Miracle Osman of Malawi, were questioned in February while taking part in a mission to investigate alleged human rights abuses in the southern Philippines, which has been under military rule since last year.
Osman’s passport was confiscated when she applied to renew her missionary visa, making it impossible for her to leave the Philippines, the church said.
Meanwhile, Shaw has been informed of an impending immigration order to leave the country, although it has not been served.
It was not clear if Osman and Shaw were in custody. The immigration bureau in Manila could not be reached for comment.
“We vigorously protest this treatment of our mission personnel, placed and supervised in collaboration with The United Methodist Church in the Philippines,” Thomas Kemper, the chief executive of the United Methodist Global Ministries, said in a statement.
“It is unconscionable that Tawanda has been held for six weeks. We are respectfully asking that these young people be allowed to leave,” said Kemper, whose church has a global membership of more than 12.5 million members in the United States, Africa, Europe and Asia.
The group has been working with lawyers in the Philippines, but has met with “repeated difficulties” in getting legal documents to enable the three to leave the country.
Kemper said the three were sent to the country for 20 months to take part in activities including peacebuilding, teaching English and human rights advocacy.
President Rodrigo Duterte has been sensitive against foreign criticism of his government’s drug war, which, according to rights groups, has left thousands dead in just two years.
Duterte takes on Catholic Church
The Philippine leader has railed at the dominant Catholic Church, and recently caused an uproar by ordering the deportation of a 71-year-old Australian nun, Sister Patricia Fox, whom he accused of joining street protests and rallies denouncing the government.
Fox, who has been living and working in the Philippines for nearly three decades, challenged the order and brought the case to the justice department, which this month overturned the deportation order.
Apart from Fox, authorities deported an Italian activist blacklisted by the government.
Duterte has of late ramped up his attack on the Catholic Church, and questioned God and the Biblical story of creation. He has also called church leaders “full of shit” and joked that he would create a religion whose main aim was to create happiness.
Duterte dismissed the killings of three Catholic priests by unknown gunmen since December, hinting that they may have been targeted for personal reasons, including womanizing. He has not offered any proof, even though he made the accusations in public speeches.
But in a bid to calm growing public anger over this latest offending comments, Duterte on Tuesday ordered a dialogue between three of his officials and church leaders to iron out the differences.
Presidential spokesman Harry Roque said he, along with two other officials, were appointed by Duterte to lead the dialogue and have contacted church officials.