On December 1, 2018, St Mary’s Catholic Parish, Erskineville, hosted a visit by a very unassuming Sr Patricia Fox snd (Sister of Sion). This event was organised by Action for Peace and Development in the Philippines and Migrante NSW. More than 40 people attended made up of religious people, parishioners and people from the Filipino community.
I first met Sr Patricia at an International Peoples’ Mining Conference in 2014 which had collected people from all over the Philippines and around the world to share how foreign mining companies are ruining the lives of people in many countries. Before I attended the Conference I was able to visit a number of mines in the north of Luzon that have and continue to wreak untold damage on the lives of peasants, farmers and Indigenous people. The first was an Australian mining company and the second was British. The people are promised employment, schools and health care but often does not eventuate. People from other parts of the country are employed and the education and health care is forgotten or ignored.
Sr Patricia was deported from the Philippines after standing in solidarity with farmers, peasants, Indigenous people (the Lumads) and other human rights defenders. During her time in the Philippines she became aware of murders, land confiscations and the jailing of protesters. Working with the peasants she spoke of many stories about extrajudicial killings, people tortured and gaoled on trumped up charges for trumped up charges, which she went to document.
Patricia Fox showed in her talk that she continues to be committed to fighting human rights abuses in the country. During her visit she attended a number of other events in Sydney and also met with the human rights sub-committee comprising Federal members of parliament.
During her presentation at Sr Mary’s Patricia Fox told of the unlawful killings she witnessed during her 27 years in the Philippines. She also called on the Australian government to cease providing military assistance to the Armed Forces of the Philippines. Australian troops there are providing training for Filipino troops in urban warfare. She said that Australia is providing training to the Filipino military which is a massive human rights abuser and thus by our presence supporting grave human rights violations. The impact on mining companies on the lives of the people, their culture and the environment has already been alluded to Australia must begin to take responsibility and question itself as to whether it will continue to provide support a corrupt government and which has seen thousands of extra-judicial killings. President Duterte, in sanctioning these killings has created a culture of violence and fear. She has accused the Philippine president of creating a reign of terror through his tyranny.
After a fact-finding mission in Mindanao it was revealed that there had been 54 cases of killings, torture and illegal detentions as well as harassment and intimidation. During this fact finding mission, Fox and her colleagues heard stories of indigenous people and subsistence farmers being summarily executed or forced off their land to make way for mining and extensions to palm oil and banana plantations. She mentioned repeatedly that the culture of impunity was getting worse. She gave a staggering figure of 20,000 extra-judicial killings as part of the anti-drug crackdown. The anti-drug crackdown was “horribly barbaric” and she intended to return to the Philippines to continue her missionary work for the poor. Though unassuming, Sr Patricia comes across as one who is resilient and determined to make God’s dream as outline in the Book of Isaiah a reality – a reign of justice and peace. Not only is she resilient but she could not speak enough of the resilience of the people she had the privilege of being with in her work.
Thinking of Sr Patricia it seems that she was only doing what Pope Francis has called us to: ‘It is necessary to intervene where evil spreads; because evil spreads where there are no daring Christians who oppose with good’. We see in her one who like Jesus was a defenseless prisoner meeting face to face with a representative of the powerful imperial system of Rome (John 18: 33-37) During the meeting Jesus makes a solemn proclamation: “I was born for this, I came into the world for this, to bear witness to the truth; and all who are on the side of truth listen to my voice’. This affirmation reveals a basic feature of Jesus’ prophetic trajectory: the willingness to live in God’s truth. It also reveals the prophetic trajectory in the lives of so many known and unknown to us who speak and live the gospel. Jesus doesn’t just speak the truth, but he seeks the truth, and only the truth of a God who wants a more human world for all God’s children. Is this not the story of so many who have witnessed to the truth before those in power. Pilate asked in John’s Gospel ‘what is truth?’ Jesus spoke and lived a truth that came with authority but not authoritarianism. He spoke of mercy and not dogma and rigorism. He spoke unlike fanatics who imposed their ways on people. God’s truth is not about selfishness but in defense of the poor; it does not tolerate lies or cover-ups where there is injustice; it does not manipulate; but, becomes a voice of those whose voice has been muffled or stifled against those who have too much voice. Pilate represents those in power who will do everything possible to conceal their own responsibility or that of other who perpetrate violence, injustice and all kinds of abuse; those who ignore the suffering of vulnerable and defenseless people.
This unassuming religious woman speaks a truth and lives a truth. She calls us to open our eyes to our participation and collaboration in the violations that many Filipinos endure at the hands of those who represent the powers. This woman who wants to return to being with the people of her mission in the Philippines cannot get used to the social exclusion and hopeless violence that many have experiences. She shows us that to follow Jesus we must listen to his voice and instinctively go out in defense of the least. Whoever is on the side of truth listens to his voice. That is Sr Patricia’s call and our call.
Fr Claude Mostowik msc
President, Peace and Justice Commission, New South Wales Ecumenical Council
President, Pax Christi Australia
Director, Missionaries of the Sacred Heart Justice and Peace