Updated: April 17, 2018 05:27 AM GMT
Nuns visit Australian nun Patricia Fox, superior of the Sisters of Our Lady of Sion in the Philippines, at the immigration bureau where she was brought after her arrest in Manila on April 16. (Photo by Mark Saludes)
Philippine authorities have arrested, detained and intend to deport a 71-year-old Australian nun for allegedly engaging in illegal political activities.
Immigration officers arrested Sister Patricia Fox, Philippine superior of the international Catholic congregation Sisters of Our Lady of Sion, at her convent in Quezon City on April 16.
Although the prosecutor in charge, "found no probable cause" for her arrest and ordered the nun's "release for further investigation," immigration officials insisted on the nun's detention.
They said Sister Fox failed to surrender her passport to the bureau. The nun said her documents were with a travel agency.
Sister Fox was being detained at the bureau's intelligence division.
Immigration officials have accused the nun, who has worked in rural communities for 27 years, of being an "undesirable alien" for joining protest rallies and visiting political prisoners.
Among the evidence presented by authorities are pictures of the nun taken during a jail visit in the southern Philippines with a banner that reads "Stop Killing Farmers."
The nun also joined a recent fact-finding and solidarity mission that investigated alleged human rights abuses committed against farmers and tribal people in the southern Philippines.
She told ucanews.com that part of her missionary work is "to immerse with the poorest of the poor in any event."
"Our mission includes listening to the narratives of people especially poor farmers and indigenous people," she said. "We go to places where we find them."
The nun said her presence at demonstrations "was not a form of protest against anyone in the government but merely accompanying the poor in their struggle."
Sister Fox, who holds a Philippine missionary visa, is former national coordinator of the Rural Missionaries of the Philippines and volunteer staff of the Union of Agricultural Workers.
Australian nun Patricia Fox (left), superior of the Sisters of Our Lady of Sion in the Philippines, speaks with her legal counsel after her arrest in Manila on April 16. (Photo by Mark Saludes)
Human rights and church groups expressed alarm over her arrest.
Manila Auxiliary Bishop Broderick Pabillo said Sister Fox "is too old to run from the government or from whatever allegations they are accusing her of."
The prelate appealed to authorities to release her for humanitarian reasons, adding that the arrest is a "form of persecution and harassment."
"This is political," said Bishops Pabillo. "The government is trying to intimidate individuals and groups who are in pursuit of social justice for the oppressed and the poor," he added.
Father Benjamin Alforque of the Promotion of Church People's Response said the arrest is a violation of the nun's fundamental rights.
"When has it become a crime for church people to exercise their right to preach the Gospel and accompany the poor?" said the priest.
The Rural Missionaries of the Philippines said her arrest was part of the Philippine government's crackdown on human rights defenders.
"It is disheartening that [Sister Fox] is being attacked by our government when all she does is serve and support the Filipino rural poor," said Sister Elen Belardo, national coordinator of the group.
In February, the immigration bureau in the southern city of General Santos arrested five foreign members of an international solidarity mission.
On April 15, Italian Giacomo Filibeck, deputy secretary-general of the Party of European Socialists, was barred from entering the Philippines.
Filibeck was part of an international human rights mission in October last year that looked into alleged human rights violations in the country.
On April 13, President Rodrigo Duterte warned Fatou Bensouda, prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, that she would be barred from entering the country.
The International Criminal Court is currently looking into alleged abuses committed by the Philippine government especially in its anti-narcotics campaign.
Cristina Palabay of human rights group Karapatan said the arrest of Fox and threats against international human rights advocates "are clear and blatant forms of violation on the exercise of people's right to extend international solidarity to victims of rights violations."