Hands off Otto de Vries, hands off human rights defenders! —Karapatan

Karapatan expressed its support to Otto de Vries, a Dutch pastoral worker and trade union rights advocate, against deportation orders of the Philippine Bureau of Immigration,and called it as "another spate of harassment against human rights defenders who have long worked for social justice issues in the Philippines, like what they did to Sr. Patricia Fox."

"For most Philippine activists, Otto de Vries has been a common sight in various activities that tackle human rights, labor issues and other concerns regarding Philippine society. His presence has always been welcome because we very well know of his track record of standing in solidarity with the poor and oppressed of our country," said Atty. Maria Sol Taule.

De Vries was recently issued an Order to Leave of the Bureau of Immigration based on what he called as "false allegations" of the National Intelligence Coordinating Agency.

"Otto is another Sr. Patricia Fox, belonging to the many advocates, despite not being a Filipino national, stand with us Filipinos in defense of our rights. We are enraged that the Duterte administration is maliciously red-tagging De Vries. Bahag ang buntot sa mga dayuhang nagsasamantala sa ating bansa, at nambu-bully lang sa mga tulad ni Otto na nagseserbisyo sa mga kababayan natin," Taule said.

In his testimony and reply to the Bureau of Immigration, De Vries explained his humble beginnings from the Diocese of Rotterdam in the Netherlands, who came to the Philippines in May 1991 on the invitation of Bishop Julio Xavier Labayen, OCD, Prelature of Infanta, to do pastoral work.

"Otto is more Filipino than many in the Philippine government, living and breathing the same air as Filipinos, worked and experienced the same dire situation of the Filipino poor, the workers, thereby motivated to share with them their plight for just wages, better living conditions, among others," Taule said.

Taule also questioned the timing and motives behind De Vries' deportation, saying that the Duterte regime is "very busy" not with getting rid of the debilitating effects of the pandemic on the people, but in getting rid of people like De Vries who has more "heart and mind in the plight of the poor amid this crisis."

She also supported De Vries' assertion that his stay in the Philippines is no less than legal and should be recognized.

De Vries said in his testimony, "in all those years, I regularly reported about my mission to Bishop Labayen, including the worsening situation of the workers. I continued doing so with his successor, Most Rev. Rolando J. Tria Tirona, OCD, DD, and presently with Bishop Bernardino Cruz Cortez. They have consistently stressed the importance of such a mission for the Church, not only sharing the experiences, but also the involvement with their struggle for social justice. This motivated me to continue."

"We support De Vries' stay in the Philippines based on his own account that he has a permanent visa, and that the Order to Leave by the Bureau of Immigration is without any valid and legal cause," Taule said.

De Vries, who has been in the Philippines for 30 years, said he was not notified of any proceedings and was not able to refute the malicious allegations of the National Intelligence Coordinating Agency (NICA) that he "engaged and was actively participating in protest rallies of Communist-Terrorist Groups (CTG) front organizations."

"The Philippine government has gone berserk in its red-tagging, threats and harassment against almost everybody, from celebrities to foreigners, to activists and ordinary persons. Only a state that fears critical thinking and democratic exercise of rights would do such desperate acts. Hands off Otto De Vries, hands off human rights defenders!” Taule ended.