By Ma Ceres P Doyo
Philippine Daily Inquirer
Asia News Network
On Monday, Bureau of Immigration officials picked up Sister Patricia Fox of the Our Lady of Sion congregation from her residence in Quezon City and detained her for 24 hours. She was released on Tuesday but authorities are holding her passport. The nun has a missionary visa that is renewed every two years. Now she has been given 10 days to respond to charges against her, among them her participation in rallies.
A not-so-recent photo on the Internet shows Sister Pat at an outdoor gathering, carrying a backpack and wearing a floppy hat and a T-shirt with the image of Pope Francis and the words “Struggle with us for land, justice and peace”. What a great smile she had on her face.
Sister Pat was the national coordinator from 2002 to 2008 of the Rural Missionaries of the Philippines (RMP), one of several mission partners of the Association of Major Religious Superiors in the Philippines. The RMP is composed of religious from different congregations and laypeople who work in rural areas. It is turning 50 this year, and has been a candle in the dark, so to speak, in deprived and overlooked corners of the Philippines.
I spoke with Sister Pat on the phone as she made her way home after release from detention. With her was the current RMP national coordinator, Sister Elenita Belardo of the Religious of the Good Shepherd. Sister Pat said she should have been detained at Camp Bagong Diwa in Taguig City (a god-awful place for a frail 71-year-old), but she was detained instead at the Immigration Bureau as “a concession”.
The action constitutes imprisonment all the same and was plainly ordered to warn foreigners against being openly on the side of the marginalised and the voiceless. How many Filipinos can say they have spent so many years of their lives, as Sister Pat has, working with the last, the least and the lost of this woebegone country? For heeding the biblical imperative to walk with those who have been largely forgotten, she is placed under suspicion of being an enemy of the state.
In a TV interview, a BI official explained that monitoring the “political” activities of persons like Sister Pat was a legitimate part of intelligence gathering. That statement was a give-away. It tells us that anyone seen or heard sympathising with the landless, the powerless, the voiceless is now a target of Duterte’s Philippines.
Pray tell, what is political? Is everything to be reduced to the political? Is espousing land for the landless political? Is answering God’s call to clothe the naked, feed the hungry and visit the sick political?
Is anything that could open people’s eyes and make them know their rights deemed political?
“Sister Pat is known among church people for her progressive advocacy and her steadfast commitment to serve the rural poor,” said RMP coordinator Sister Elenita. “This incident is undeniably part of the Duterte administration’s crackdown on human rights and rural poor defenders and land reform advocates.”
Sister Elenita added that when Sister Pat was RMP national coordinator “she actively advocated for genuine agrarian reform and the rural sector’s welfare”, and “organised and implemented activities aimed at providing services to [them]”.
Last April 6-9, Sister Pat was with the International Fact-Finding and Solidarity Mission in Mindanao that investigated complaints of human rights abuses against farmers and indigenous communities in the southern, northern and Caraga regions.