Philippines pressured over Christian missionaries

Church groups call on Manila to allow three Methodists to return to their home countries

Jose Torres Jr., UCA News

Various church groups around the world are calling on the Philippine government to release a detained Protestant missionary and let two others return to their home countries.

Catholic and Protestant church organizations have united in urging the Manila government to release the missionaries, one of whom has been in detention for seven weeks.

A recently launched online petition for the release of Zimbabwe national Tawanda Chandiwana from immigration detention and for Malawi citizen Miracle Osman and American Adam Shaw to leave the country has gathered about 11,000 signatures.

“We are saddened by the fact that in spite of official requests for and in behalf of our three young people, they are still unable to leave the Philippines,” read a statement from the United Methodist Church.

“We reiterate our appeal to the Philippine government to release Chandiwana, return the passport of Osman, and with Shaw, let all of them go back to their respective countries,” read the Protestant group’s statement.

It said the three missionaries “don’t want to stay longer than their visas allow them to” in the Philippines. “And they are willing to leave the country peacefully,” said the bishops.

Australian nun appeals on behalf of Protestants

Catholic missionary Sister Patricia Fox, an Australian who was earlier ordered to leave the country by President Rodrigo Duterte, also called on the president to allow the three missionaries to leave the country.

Sister Fox made the call as she submitted on July 2 her own petition at the Immigration Bureau to be allowed to remain in the Philippines as a missionary.

The nun was arrested and detained by immigration officials in April for involvement in “partisan political activities” when she joined a “fact-finding mission” that looked into alleged human rights abuses in the southern Philippines.

“There can only be a meaningful dialogue with the churches if the three missionaries are allowed to go home and harassment of missionaries like me are stopped,” said Sister Fox.

Philippine authorities imposed a travel ban on Chandiwana, Osman, and Shaw after they also joined a fact-finding mission in Mindanao in February this year.

The ecumenical group Promotion of Church People’s Response (PCPR) has also spoken out against the “harsh and inhospitable treatment” of missionaries.

The group said in a statement that the foreign missionaries came to the Philippines “in response to a calling of God to missionary service with the people … journeying with them toward their aspiration and dream of God’s promise of peace and justice.”

Missionaries to Mindanao

The Methodist General Board of Global Ministries sent Chandiwana, Shaw and Osman to work as missionaries in the southern Philippines region of Mindanao.

In February, Tawanda and Shaw were part of an international fact-finding team that looked into alleged human rights issues in the region. They were on a truck stopped by police at a checkpoint in South Cotabato province. Their passports and immigration cards were seized and they were detained, but they were later released.

Tawanda was later arrested and detained on May 9 in Davao City and later transferred to an immigration detention center in Manila. He was reported to be the subject of a “watchlist order.”

“We remind President Duterte to stop attacking God, whom he does not see, and to stop attacking missionaries, most particularly those whose good works for the poor and marginalized are evident,” the PCPR said.