Karapatan slams illegal arrest and detention of Australian missionary Sr. Patricia Fox

Karapatan decries the illegal arrest and detention of Sr. Patricia “Pat” Fox, NDS, a missionary of the international Roman Catholic congregation of women Sisters of Our Lady of Sion, from the Congregacion de Notre Dame de Sion (Congregation of Our Lady of Sion). 

Sr. Pat, 71, is an Australian citizen who holds a missionary visa in the Philippines since the 1990’s and is conducting community service as part of her missionary work in the country. An advocate of genuine agrarian reform and human rights, Sr. Pat has joined activities of the Unyon ng mga Manggagawa sa Agrikultura (UMA) and Pagkakaisa para sa Tunay na Repormang Agraryo (PATRIA), including recent international fact finding and solidarity missions in Mindanao that probed the impact of the Duterte regime’s martial law and counterinsurgency program Oplan Kapayapaan on poor peasants in the island. Sr. Pat is also a consistent and untiring advocate of the rights of agricultural workers, including the farmworkers in Hacienda Luisita, that of indigenous peoples, including the Lumad, and the urban poor. 

Pat Fox

 

At around 2:30pm yesterday, April 16, six intelligence officers of the Bureau of Immigration went to Sr. Pat’s house in Project 3, Quezon City. The BI agents “invited” her for random checking and verification of her immigration papers and status. They hurriedly showed her an “invitation/mission order” but they did not give her a copy. Fox asked the agents if she can go to the BI office the next day, but they told her that she should go with them now and that she was not allowed to defer her “visit” to the BI office.  Sensing that she had no choice, she went with the BI agents, accompanied by a fellow nun from her congregation. She also told them that her passport is with her travel agency, as she was arranging her trip for Australia this May. Her missionary visa is valid until September 2018.  

It was only when they arrived at the BI office in Intramuros, Manila at 4pm today, when she was read of her Miranda rights. BI officers did not show any document indicating charges against Fox. Her captors, though, have been saying that she is being arrested for joining rallies and “illegal political activities,” that she will be detained overnight and that she will be deported. 

In the inquest proceedings against Fox, the BI said she was apprehended pursuant to the bureau’s Mission Order No. JHM-2018-101 issued on April 13, 2018 by BI Commissioner Jaime Morente. 

According to her lawyer Jobert Pahilga, the National Intelligence Coordinating Agency (NICA) of Region XI complained that Fox is an “undesirable alien” as she allegedly joined a rally against the government in Tagum City and visited the striking Coca-cola workers in Davao City. The NICA complaint included a photo showing Sr. Pat, raising a clenched fist, with farmer-detainees in Tagum with the banner "Stop Killing Farmers". Another photo shows that she was standing in a street wearing an Unyon ng mga Manggagawa sa Agrikultura (UMA) T-Shirt . Those photos were taken last April 6-9. 

“There is nothing illegal with what Sr. Pat did. Contrary to the claim of NICA, Sr. Pat did not join any rally in Tagum or Davao or in any province of Region XI for that matter. She was in Region 9 as part of her religious and missionary work to immerse and help farmers and indigenous people pursuant to the mission for peace, justice and promotion of human rights of her congregation. On April 6-9, Sister Pat visited farmer-detainees in Tagum City and the striking Coca-cola workers as part of the International Fact Finding and Solidarity Mission (IFFSM) conducted by human rights and farmers' organization. The purpose of the IFFSM was to verify and document the reported rampant human rights violations against our farmers and lumad brothers and sisters in Mindanao and submit the fact-finding report with recommendations to government agencies for appropriate action. The IFFSM, therefore, is not within the context of a prohibited partisan political activity under immigration laws,” Pahilga said. 

He added that during the inquest, the investigating BI Special Prosecutor informed Sr. Pat of the complaint against her, and she satisfactorily explained that what she did was part of her missionary work for peace, justice and promotion of human rights. “We then requested the BI Special Prosecutor to release Sister Pat for further investigation because the NICA complaint which was the basis for her arrest is based on flimsy ground. The special prosecutor was inclined to release Sister Pat for further proceedings. Unfortunately, her passport was not with her as it was with a travel agent to process her exit visa and tax payment as Sister Pat intends to return to Australia to attend a conference of her congregation. Hopefully, she will soon be released.

In February 2018, five foreign members of an international solidarity mission were also held by the Bureau of Immigration in General Santos City. The International Coalition for Human Rights in the Philippines and the Mindanaoans for Civil Liberties spearheaded the said mission to investigate reports of human rights violations in Mindanao linked to the implementation of martial law and counterinsurgency program Oplan Kapayapaan. 

Last April 15, Italian citizen Giacomo Filibeck, Deputy Secretary General of the Party of European Socialists, was barred from entering the Philippines and was immediately deported by BI officials from the Mactan-Cebu International Airport. Filibeck was part of an international human rights mission in October 2017 in the Philippines that looked into cases of human rights violations. 

Also, in a speech last April 13, President Rodrigo Duterte warned Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda of the International Criminal Court that she will be barred from entering the country and will face arrest as the ICC pursues its investigation on Duterte’s accountability in the extrajudicial killings in line with the drug war. 

“The Duterte regime’s contempt for any independent investigation, including that of international human rights observers and development workers, into its record of human rights violations betrays its guilt. If indeed Duterte is as innocent as his sycophants say, there would be no reason for blocking any form of independent inquiries into the cases of extrajudicial killings and other rights violations against peasants and other poor sectors in the Philippines. Given the illegal arrest and detention of Fox, as well as the many documented cases of threats and harassment against delegates to fact-finding missions in the Philippines, it is clear that Duterte has much to hide and is guilty as hell on these rights violations,” said Karapatan Secretary General Cristina Palabay. 

“The arrest of Fox and other forms of threats against human rights advocates from the international community are clear and blatant forms of violation on the exercise of people’s right to extend international solidarity to victims of rights violations. Fox was deprived of her right to due process, to information on why she is being arrested and to direct access to human rights organizations and legal counsels. She has been serving peasant communities in the country for decades, and thus her missionary work is true to the values of genuine community service,” Palabay added. 

“Fox should be immediately released and her deportation should be vigorously opposed. It is an irony that the Duterte regime and those who are for Fox’s deportation are the very people who have made the country a living hell for its citizens, while foreign missionaries and rights advocates like Fox have long been working side by side with the poor and oppressed to improve their deplorable conditions,” Palabay concluded.

Reference: Cristina Palabay, Secretary General, 0917-3162831

Karapatan Public Information Desk, 0918-9790580