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MANILA, Philippines – Rights group Karapatan hit the arrest of Australian missionary Sister Patricia Fox for allegedly "attending protest rallies and engaging in political activities."
In a statement on Tuesday, April 17, Karapatan secretary general Tinay Palabay said that the action of President Rodrigo Duterte's regime against international human rights observers and development workers "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," Palabay said.
She added: "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."
Fox, Mother Superior of the Sisters of Our Lady of Sion, was arrested by Bureau of Immigration (BI) agents on Monday, April 16, following a mission order issued by Immigration Commissioner Jaime Morente.
According to Karapatan, Fox has been living in the Philippines for 27 years as a lay missionary, and has conducted community service as part of her work in the country. Fox is also an advocate of genuine agrarian reform and human rights, among others.
Karapatan called it ironic that the government is arresting individuals who have been working to "improve the deplorable conditions" of Filipinos.
"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 said.
Karapatan cited Fox's lawyer Jobert Pahilga as saying that the National Intelligence Coordinating Agency of Region XI tagged Fox as an "undesirable alien" after allegedly joining a rally in Tagum City. (READ: Prone to abuse: State surveillance as a tool to silence critics)
"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 defended Fox.
Fox's arrest happened only a day after Giacomo Filibeck, an official of the Party of European Socialists (PES), was barred from entering the Philippines to join the Akbayan Partylist Congress in Cebu.
Together with members of other European human rights organizations, Filibeck was part of the delegation who went to the Philippines in October 2017 to probe alleged human rights violations. PES earlier condemned the killings under Duterte's war on drugs.
Meanwhile, Karapatan noted that 5 foreign members of an international solidarity mission were also held by the BI in General Santos City last February 2018. – Rappler.com
Jodesz Gavilan is a writer and researcher for Rappler and its investigative arm, Newsbreak. She covers human rights and also hosts the weekly podcast Newsbreak: Beyond the Stories. She joined Rappler in 2014 after obtaining her journalism degree from the University of the Philippines.