Sr Pat Fox and her people

The Philippine government must have thought her subversive and wanted her punished.

Last April 16, Bureau of Immigration (BI) agents arrested and detained Sr Patricia Fox of the congregation Notre Dame de Sion. The arrest may have stemmed from her recent participation in a human rights fact-finding mission in Mindanao that so-rankled the military. Australian by birth, tall, white and blond, she was obviously a foreigner who they must have thought has no business participating in political activities, particularly those that point out the Rodrigo Duterte regime’s many human rights violations.

But the military and the BI could not be more wrong. Not only did Sr Pat make the Philippines her home for 27 years, she dedicated her mission to helping farmers in their agrarian reform struggles. A volunteer of the peasant group Unyon ng mga Manggagawa sa Agrikultura in Central Luzon and a human rights defender of long-standing, she has long been considered a compatriot by the farmers and the workers. For them, the kindly nun is more Filipino than most.

When news of her arrest broke out, lawyers and human rights workers rushed to the BI office in Manila to support her. Not long after, nuns and priests followed. Before the night was over, a bishop, Manila Auxiliary Bishop Broderick Pabillo, came.

Still, the BI refused to let her go. The agency wanted the elderly nun investigated for being an “undesirable alien.” Word went round that the government wanted her deported.

Sr Patricia Fox, NDS upon her release from detention. (SINAGBAYAN–Sining na Naglilingkod sa Bayan photo)

It only galvanized more support for the beleaguered nun. This morning, the rally in downtown Manila organized to defend judicial independence and to denounce US bombing in Syria made a detour to the BI to call for Sr Pat’s release. Before long, more nuns visited and yet another bishop, Caloocan Bishop Emeritus Deogracias Yniguez, came. Prominent activists and legislators also arrived. It must have been shocking to the BI to witness that their unassuming prisoner is well-loved by many, both prominent and humble, young and old.

Outside of BI, statements flew fast and thick. It did not only come from Manila or from Central Luzon where she does her Godly work. It came from as far sa Mindanao and abroad. Social media lit up with condemnations of her arrest and calls for her release. Photos of her remaining calm and even smiling were shared widely. Politicians who do not care about her work also condemned her arrest.

At three o’clock this afternoon, the BI had no choice but to let Sr Pat go. Still, they threatened her with more investigations. Sr Pat’s troubles with the Duterte regime is just beginning it seems.

Outside of BI’s gates, the nun was mobbed both by supporters and the media. Yet there she was, smiling and radiant. It must have been an ordeal for a 71-year old and frail-looking woman to be arrested and detained for more than 24 hours. This early, though, it is clear who is losing in this struggle. This early, it appears it is this tyrannical government and its highhandedness that is undesirable. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

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