A 71-year-old Australian nun was arrested in the Philippines on Tuesday for “engaging in political activities,” another indication that Rodrigo Duterte’s administration is cracking down on political dissidents.
Sister Patricia Cox was reportedly detained for “attending protest rallies and engaging in political activities” against Duterte’s presidency. She was later released, but investigations into the incident will continue.
Her lawyer, Jobert Ilarde Pahilga, maintained that Cox had “done nothing wrong that would warrant her arrest, detention, and possible deportation,” adding that National Intelligence Coordinating Agency complained she was an “undesirable alien” because of her involvement in anti-government activities.
“She is a human rights and a genuine agrarian reform advocate who tirelessly provided various social service to farmers including the farmers of Hacienda Luisita,” Pahilga said in a statement.
The arrest immediately drew criticism from government opposition, who expressed fear that the government is cracking down on opposition activists while describing Cox as a tireless human rights campaigner.
“The emerging trend on the crackdown against foreign activists in the country is alarming as exhibited by the harassment and casual arrests of the two human rights advocates, who were not even in protest activities or rallies when taken into custody,” the opposition Liberal Party said in a statement.
“These incidents will trigger more questions on what the government is trying to conceal,” they continued.
The chairman of the International Coalition for Human Rights, Peter Murphy, added that he was astounded by the arrest of a woman who was not politically influential.
“She’s a very gentle soul … a really quiet and unassuming character,” Murphy said from Sydney. “It’s pretty outstanding they have decided to hit her with a sledgehammer. … She’s not a prominent person in terms of public denunciations of the government.”
Fox’s arrest also came a day after European Union official Giacomo Filibeck was deported for expressing his opposition to Duterte’s brutal crackdown on crime. Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra justified the deportation by claiming it is “unlawful for aliens staying in our country to engage in partisan political activities.”
Since his rise to the presidency in 2016, Duterte’s government have attracted international condemnation for their brutal crackdown on criminal organizations including drug barons, Islamists, and communists, that has involved thousands of extrajudicial killings and countless human rights violations.
Duterte has, in turn, launched a campaign against human rights groups who he claims are hindering his efforts, which have seen him become the most popular Filipino leader since the 1980s.
Steps taken to weaken opposition include revoking the license of opposition media, cutting the country’s human rights budget to $20 a month, and pulling the country out of the International Criminal Court (ICC) that is currently examining potential human rights abuses.