Australian nun denies joining 'political activities,' says she's doing church work

ABS-CBN News

Posted at Apr 18 2018 01:10 PM | Updated as of Apr 18 2018 01:54 PM

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MANILA - Australian nun Patricia Fox, who was detained by the Bureau of Immigration for allegedly violating conditions of her stay in the Philippines, denied on Tuesday accusations that she is engaged in "partisan political activities."

Speaking to ANC a day after her release, Fox admitted that she has come into contact with Left-leaning groups because her missionary work involves dealing with farmers, indigenous peoples, and victims of social injustice.

"We work with organized groups who are working for social justice. Often, groups working for justice are labeled Left. Like if you want, land rights, you're Left. But to me it's just basic human social justice issue... It's very consistent with the teaching of the church," she said.

"Majority of the people are poorer in Asia, so we decided as a congregation that we would go... We've always tried to remind the church that the promise to people is the kingdom of justice, peace and love, which means you work for human rights, social justice and improve livelihood of people," she added.

Her lawyer, Jobert Pahilga, believes those behind Fox's detention want to portray the nun as having links with groups supposedly against the administration of President Rodrigo Duterte.

The 71-year-old nun, who has been living in the Philippines for nearly 3 decades, recently joined a fact-finding human rights mission in Mindanao to verify reports of extra-judicial killings and harassment in the south.

"There were reports coming out from Mindanao that there were extrajudicial killings, false charges against farmers, and troubled people that are evacuees. So there was a broad alliance of groups who called for a international fact-finding mission just to check out whether the information is accurate. So I joined them to talk to people and try to find out what's happening," she explained.

Pahilga said the findings of this fact-finding mission, which shows harassment connected to mining operations, will be out soon.

FOX ACCUSED OF JOINING 'ANTI-GOVT' RALLY

Fox was released Tuesday "for further investigation" after spending the night in detention. Atty. Pahilga said BI officers showed them photos from intelligence units showing Fox supposedly in a political rally.

"The allegation is that Sr. Pat went to Tagum City and Davao City to attend anti-government rallies. She was shown a picture together with farmers who were detainees and another picture shows she is standing on the street," he told ANC.

But contrary to the accusations, the nun said she was visiting political prisoners in Tagum City, and not joining the rally. The other photo, she said, was during her visit to contractual workers who had been laid off by a soft drinks company in Davao City.

Fox said her case is different from the deported European Socialist Party official who was supposed speak in an event of a local political party.

"I went there to find out about the situation and also to give them support. The social teaching of the Catholic Church says there's a right to unionize, right for just wages, right for security of tenure. And being there in solidarity with them," she said.

Pahilga said the photos shown to them were given to the BI by the National Intelligence Coordinating Agency (NICA), leading him to suspect that the military is behind Sr. Fox's arrest.

The NICA is given 5 days to submit additional proof that Sr. Fox is engaged in political activities. After that, the camp of the nun will have to submit their counter-affidavit.

The lawyer said they are aware that the BI has the power to detain foreigners but they should have at least sent a notice first to Fox so she could clarify her position before she was detained.

Asked for her message to the authorities, a smiling Fox said in a mix of English and Tagalog: "Sana drop the case na, 'yan lang naman ang sabihin ko."

She also thanked the personnel of the Bureau of Immigration for treating her well during her detention, and gratitude as well as to those who expressed support for her.