CHR: Arrest of Australian nun a 'dangerous' precedent for human rights workers

MANILA, Philippines – The Commission on Human Rights (CHR) on Thursday, April 19, said that the arrest of Australian missionary Sister Patricia Fox sets a dangerous precedent for human right workers. 

Calling it an arrest without basis, the commission urged the government to not repeat such action which “impacts basic rights and erodes dignity of those affected.”

“Framing their work as ‘interference’ without concrete basis may discourage foreign nationals from doing important missionary and humanitarian work in our country,” CHR said in a statement.

Fox, Mother Superior of the Sisters of Our Lady of Sion, was arrested by Bureau of Immigration (BI) agents on Monday, April 16, following a mission order issued by Immigration Commissioner Jaime Morente. She was released on Tuesday afternoon, April 17.

On Wednesday, April 18, President Rodrigo Duterte admitted ordering the BI to investigate the 71-year-old nun over "disorderly conduct”, claiming her alleged critical remarks against the government constitute a "violation of sovereignty”.

CHR, however, reminded the President that the work of Fox in advocating for the marginalized is not a crime. The nun has been living in the Philippines for 27 years as a lay missionary, and has conducted community service in line with genuine agrarian reform and human rights.

“Serving the poor and disadvantaged communities by demanding justice through activism is not a crime,” the commission said. “Foreign nationals have the right to join peaceful assemblies.”

The commission also said the government should “respect and uphold” the rights of foreign nationals in the Philippines in the same manner it expects foreign countries to give the same courtesy to Filipinos abroad.  

“Inasmuch as we have our national identity, we are part of the bigger humanity in the international community,” CHR said. “We are all equal in rights and dignity as human beings.” –

Jodesz Gavilan

Jodesz Gavilan is a writer and researcher for Rappler and its investigative arm, Newsbreak. She covers human rights and also hosts the weekly podcast Newsbreak: Beyond the Stories. She joined Rappler in 2014 after obtaining her journalism degree from the University of the Philippines.