DAVAO CITY, Philippines — The human rights group Karapatan urged for the immediate release of African missionary Tawanda Chandiwana and to stop the harassment of the two other United Methodist missionaries and for the authorities to allow them to go home.
Karapatan Secretary General Cristina Palabay said Chandiwana’s detention and the harassment of two other foreign missionaries demonstrate the “paranoia overdrive of a brutal and repressive regime that has much to hide.”
At the same time, “it also shows the Duterte administration’s dire lack of understanding and respect for the right of peoples to extend international solidarity to Filipinos who bear the brunt of this anti-people government,” Palabay said.
Tawanda Chandiwana, a citizen of Zimbabwe was arrested by the authorities and detained for more than 6 weeks now.
According to the Council of Bishops of the United Methodist Church, Chandiwana was taken into custody on May 9 while he was attending a training seminar at the Mindanao Peacebuilding Institute in Davao City.
He was charged with overstaying his visa, though he had initiated the process of having a missionary visa changed to a tourist status since he was nearing the end of his 20-month missionary term. The suit was expanded when he was found to be on a “watchlist” of suspected subversives.
He denied any wrongdoing and blamed the delay in filing visa paperwork.
Chandiwana was assigned to ministries in Davao City, took part in an international fact-finding investigation of human rights issues in General Santos last February.
The Council, and the General Board of Global Ministries of the United Methodist Church, the agency from which Chandiwana received his Christian commission, launched a worldwide campaign to call public attention to the plight of Tawanda.
Aside from Chandiwana two other missionaries suffered harassment from the government forces: Adam Shaw of Brunswick, Ohio, and Miracle Osman of Blantyre, Malawi.
Shaw, a citizen of the United States, has been ordered to leave the country.
Osman was in the process of renewing her missionary visa when her passport was confiscated by government officials.
The lack of a passport made it impossible for her to voluntarily leave the country. She has requested a return of her passport, which is the property of the Republic of Malawi.
“Karapatan and other human rights and people’s organizations recognize the missionary work of The United Methodist Church in the Philippines in upholding human rights and dignity in the course of their promotion of social justice. They have accompanied victims of human rights violations and provided spaces for international solidarity for the poor and oppressed sectors in the country,” Palabay said.
“Karapatan supports the call for the immediate release of Chandiwana, and for the three missionaries to be allowed to leave the Philippines. We call on the Duterte administration to stop the harassment and attacks against missionaries and human rights defenders. We enjoin the Commission on Human Rights, as well as the committees on human rights of both the Senate and the House of Representatives to conduct an independent investigation of the said cases,” Palabay said.
Despite continuing efforts by the staff of the local regional United Methodist conference and the Philippines-based lawyers and officials with the UMC, Chandiwana, Shaw and Osman have experienced repeated difficulties getting the legal documents and clearance they need to leave the country.
“We are convinced that our missionaries pose no threat to the peace and tranquility of the Philippines. Our request is that Chandiwana be released from detention, granted an exit visa, and be allowed to leave the country as expeditiously as possible. We ask that Osman’s passport be returned, and she be granted an exit visa, and that Shaw be allowed to depart safely,” The Council of Bishops of the UMC said in a statement.
“The Council of Bishops of the United Methodist Church joins our colleague bishops in the Philippines in appealing to the government of the Republic of the Philippines for assistance and cooperation in the immediate release of three of our missionaries from the country,” the group said.
On Thursday, the Methodist leaders asked their all their members a simultaneous prayer a daily prayer which will begin at noon time to pray for the immediate released of these three missionaries.
“We call on United Methodists worldwide to observe daily prayer beginning at noon on June 27 for the missionaries’ safety and for government permission to return to their homes,” UMC said in a statement.
They also suggest this following prayer to pray each day, “God of grace and peace be with our missionaries. Keep them free from harm. Bring them home. Lord, hear our prayer. Amen.”
For its part, the Promotion of Church People’s Response (PCPR) raised concern and expressed their strong criticism of the Duterte administration’s harsh and inhospitable treatment of the UMC foreign missionaries.
“We want to 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. Missionaries are not perfect individuals, but they have committed their lives to service to others—any shortcomings can be nurtured and remolded as they accompany the Filipino people in their desire for a just and lasting peace,” said the PCPR in a statement.
Meanwhile, Bishop Ciriaco Q. Francisco Bishop assigned to the Philippine Central Conference Board of Church and Society of the United Methodist Church said that they will hold lightning of candles on Sunday to alert and appeal to the government to allow the three missionaries to go home. (davaotoday.com)