Propoor nun, ‘nasampolan’
A 71-year-old Australian Catholic missionary nun who has been working with marginalized Filipinos for more than 27 years is the latest person of interest in the Duterte administration’s crackdown on what it perceives as openly prohuman rights, propoor, and therefore not to its liking.
Officials of the Bureau of Immigration picked up Sr. Patricia Fox of the Our Lady of Sion (Notre Dame de Sion) congregation from her residence in Quezon City last Monday and detained her for 24 hours at the BI Intelligence Division. She was released on Tuesday but the BI held on to 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 the rural areas. It is turning 50 this year, and has been a candle in the dark, so to speak, in parts unknown and on roads less traveled.
I spoke with Sister Pat on the phone after her release from detention and while she was on her way home. With her was the current RMP national coordinator, Sr. Elenita Belardo of the Religious of the Good Shepherd.
Sister Pat said she was really supposed to be detained at Camp Bagong Diwa in Bicutan, Taguig City (a god-awful place for a frail 71-year-old), but she was detained instead at the BI as “a concession.” Ay, salamat naman.
She was “nasampolan” (used as an example) — to use street lingo — to warn foreigners not to be openly on the side of the marginalized and the voiceless. How many Filipinos have spent that 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 suspected to be an enemy of the state.
In a TV interview, a BI official said in so many words that monitoring the activities — of the “political” variety, that is — of persons like Sister Pat was part of intelligence gathering. That statement was a giveaway. Ah, so … she may not be seen or heard sympathizing with the landless, the powerless, the voiceless.
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?
Oh, anything that could open people’s eyes and make them know their rights could be deemed political. So — as I have seen up close — when nuns teach indigenous groups not the ABC but first the Ls and Ds (L for lota or land, D for damowag or carabao), etc. and how to compute the cost of harvested bananas so they are not shortchanged by middlemen, is that political?
“Sister Pat is known among church people for her progressive advocacies 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 the RMP national coordinator “she actively advocated for genuine agrarian reform and the rural sectors’ welfare,” and “organized 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
alleged human rights abuses against farmers and indigenous communities in the southern, northern and Caraga regions.
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