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MANILA, Philippines – Critics of President Rodrigo Duterte on Tuesday, April 17, slammed the detention of 71-year-old Australian nun Sister Patricia Fox at the Bureau of Immigration (BI) for "attending protest rallies and engaging in political activities."
In a statement, the opposition Liberal Party (LP) said, "The emerging trend on crackdown against foreign activists in the country is alarming as exhibited by the harassment and casual arrests of the two human rights advocates, who were not even in protest activities or rallies when taken into custody."
"These incidents will trigger more questions on what the government is trying to conceal," the LP added.
In an interview with reporters at the BI, Bayan Muna Representative Carlos Zarate said he fears a "crackdown especially on foreign residents or foreign human rights advocates" in the Philippines.
Zarate also said Fox, while supporting human rights movements, was not engaging in partisan activities.
"Hindi pakikialam ang pagsasalita para sa karapatang pantao. Of course it's different 'pag sinabi mong, 'Iboto mo si Juan dela Cruz.' Pero kapagka nagsalita ka na merong isang, halimbawa, pinatay na magsasaka, pinatay na Lumad, ay hindi masama 'yon. It's not partisan," Zarate explained.
(It's not interference when you speak for human rights. Of course it's different if you say, "Vote for Juan dela Cruz." But if you speak out when, for example, a farmer or Lumad is killed, that is not bad. It's not partisan.)
In a separate interview with reporters at the BI, former Bayan Muna Representative Satur Ocampo said he asked Fox if she was given a formal charge. Fox said there was none.
Fox, however, was shown pictures of her visits to political prisoners in Compostela Valley, and to the picket of Coca-Cola workers in Davao City, with authorities questioning her "illegal" activities.
"Wala akong makitang illegal activity ro'n (I cannot see any illegal activity there)," Ocampo said.
He noted that he was with Fox in a fact-finding mission in Mindanao from April 6 to 9, where they investigated the killings of farmers in Caraga, northern Mindanao, and southern Mindanao, on top of other issues.
Ocampo said they recorded "more than 187 farmers killed under the Duterte government."
'It will create an international incident'
On Fox's detention, "Parang nagka-crackdown ang government through the BI sa mga foreigners na nakikita nila na sumasali sa mga activities that have to do with killings."
(It's like the government, through the BI, is cracking down on foreigners who join activities that have to do with killings.)
Ocampo said the BI "should be properly advised" against "proceeding against Sister Pat."
"Matagal na siya ritong nagseserbisyo sa mahihirap. It will create an international incident kung ide-deport nila," Ocampo said. (She has long been serving the poor here. It will create an international incident if they deport her.)
Earlier, Manila Auxiliary Bishop Broderick Pabillo told Rappler he fears a crackdown on government critics after the BI detained Fox.
"Ibig sabihin wala pang martial law ngayon, iniisa-isa na nila ang mga taong kumokontra sa kanila (This means that even if there's no martial law yet, they're already cracking down on people who oppose them)," Pabillo said.
In a statement on Tuesday, the BI "confirmed that an Australian missionary, Sister Patricia Fox, is being held at the BI after a Mission Order was issued by Commissioner Jaime Morente after Fox was reported to have violated the conditions of her stay by attending protest rallies and engaging in political activities."
Fox earlier appeared before the BI's special inquest prosecutor, and "was required to present and submit her passport, for further verification."
Her lawyer, Jobert Pahilga, "undertook to submit her passport" on Tuesday "for verification."
"The BI special prosecutor will then submit her findings and recommendations whether to file the necessary charges or release Fox for further investigation," the BI added. – Rappler.com
Paterno R. Esmaquel II, news editor of Rappler, specializes in covering religion and foreign affairs. He obtained his MA Journalism degree from Ateneo and later finished MSc Asian Studies (Religions in Plural Societies) at RSIS, Singapore. For story ideas or feedback, email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.