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Witness under the sword

Statement of the Ecumenical Bishops’ Forum (EBF) on the arrest and detention of Australian Missionary Sr. Patricia Fox
April 18, 2018

“Be alert and vigilant. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith.” (1 Peter 5:8-9)

The Church in the Philippines lives in perilous times as an increasing number of clergy, religious and church workers face unspeakable violence and whose rights are violated by President Rodrigo Duterte’s administration. Church people who join the pilgrimage of poor communities and support their struggle for justice, peace and human dignity suffer state-perpetuated political persecution.

The assault against Sister Patricia Fox, who is an Australian religious missionary and the regional superior of the Our Lady of Sion Sisters in the Philippines, is the most recent blow against church workers and religious institutions. For the past 27 years, she has immersed herself in the arms of the toiling Filipino masses and worked hand-in-hand with farmers, supporting through her prayers and selfless service their struggle for land and life.

Sr. Pat, as she is known in the ecumenical community, was illegally arrested by elements of the Bureau of Immigration at her residence in Quezon City. She was detained for two days, from April 16 to 17, following allegations of her participation in political actions against the Philippine government. The soft-spoken and good-natured missionary nun was released, following the strong condemnation of faith communities, the human rights defenders, and members of civil society groups and peoples’ organizations.

The Ecumenical Bishops’ Forum strongly denounces this absurd action taken by Duterte’s administration against Sr. Pat. We express outrage at this evil-doing and demand that all politically motivated harassment against human rights defenders, peace and justice advocates, political activists, and church workers be put to stop.

We cannot comprehend why church people become targets of political persecution. When has it become a crime to accompany the poor and the oppressed in their struggle? When has it become a crime to preach the words of God and live-out the works of Christ?

Recent events manifest a systematic state-sponsored attack on church people. On December 4 last year, Catholic priest Marcelito Paez was killed after facilitating the release of a political prisoner. On May 11, 2017, Iglesia Filipina Independiente Bishop and peace advocate Carlo Morales was arrested, detained for nearly a year, and was recently released upon the granting of his bail plea.

We hold the Duterte government accountable for the many cases, documented or otherwise, on the persecution of church people. This situation only reveals the hands of a despotic government that seeks to suppress the Church’s role as a moral compass of the society.

We vehemently condemn the mounting cases of political and religious persecution under Duterte’s tyrannical and dictatorial rule. We demand that this administration stop the increasing and increasingly hostile attempts at silencing church people who accompany those that experience far more greater historical and structural injustices.

The plight of Sr. Pat sends a chilling message to everyone. The persecution of church people does not only reveal the sword of a despotic government that seeks to suppress the Church’s role as a moral compass of society. It is a demonstration of this administration’s noxious attempts to criminalize legitimate dissent. This serves as a prelude to more intensified state perpetuated violence against those who work for peace, justice and the promotion of human rights.

We, therefore, call upon all Christians and to all people of good will to boldly resist state violence and political oppression, and continue to stand up for and work in solidarity with the poor, deprived and oppressed, so that justice and peace may reign and life, in all its sanctity and dignity, can be enjoyed.

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