The government casts a stone and cancels a missionary’s visa, but Otto de Vries asserts that his hands are not the devil’s workshop.
The state’s red-tagging streak continues with their latest target: Dutch missionary and labor rights activist Otto de Vries, whose visa of permanent residence is being revoked.
The reason? He was participating in protest rallies that the National Intelligence Coordinating Agency (NICA) unjustifiably labeled in a December 2019 letter as organized by “Communist-Terrorist Groups front organizations.” Such was the driving force behind the Bureau of Immigration’s (BI) decision, with the bureau using Philippine Immigration Act of 1940 as further justification.
In a report by the Inquirer, Bureau Commissioner Jaimie Morente explained that under the act, foreigners are not allowed to participate in any form of political activities such as rallies.
“There are no exemptions. Foreign nationals, regardless of their visa type, may not engage in partisan political activities,” Morente said, with the bureau emphasizing that his case had been pending since 2019. It was only this January 23 when they requested de Vries to submit his counter affidavit.
Doing the Lord’s work
De Vries, who claimed to have been living with the urban poor in the City of Pasig for 20 years and is a member of the Diocese of Rotterdam, debunked the allegations raised by BI and NICA in a testimony published in Bulatlat, saying that the cancellation of his visa was “without any valid and legal cause.”
“Contrary to the accusations of NICA, neither I nor EILER engage in acts of terrorism. Further, EILER publishes research and educational modules based on facts and concrete conditions of the workers. It does not publish propaganda or any materials that support terrorist organizations,” de Vries retorted.
He was involved with the “well-established research NGO [non-government organization]” Ecumenical Institute for Labor Education and Research (EILER) after he shared a copy of a study he made. The paper in question discussed the possible worsening working conditions of laborers in subcontracted jobs.
“I wrote about the subcontracting system in one of the last projects I had worked for. In this research I presented how the working conditions worsened on each layer of subcontracted jobs, for the readers to get a better grasp on the construction workers’ situation,” de Vries, citing that his experiences with the working class pushed him to write.
Around 2015, following an accident, he joined EILER as a research volunteer after believing that both church work and labor were “indispensible.” Despite the accusations, de Vries stood firm and asserted that he will continue his “mission” in the country.
“For almost 30 years, I was granted the privilege of being issued a permanent resident VISA [sic]. I have been living my mission in the Philippines and I have no further desire than to continue my mission among the oppressed workers,” the missionary concluded.
He who is without sin
Progressive groups took to social media to help de Vries in carrying his cross, uniting with the #HandsOffOtto.
National labor center Kilusang Mayo Uno (KMU) denounced the blacklisting and order to leave, claiming that the allegations are “unfounded and malicious.”
“Otto is a friend of workers and the poor. He is in no way a terrorist. Having been in our country for almost 30 years, he has exemplified and concretized the mission of the religious to build a Church for the Poor. For years, he has immersed himself in workplaces and communities to study the conditions of the Filipino workers,” said KMU.
Additionally, KMU noted that even before Pres. Rodrigo Duterte took office, de Vries had already been helping workers through forums and educational sessions, and by volunteering for the EILER.
“He is more of a Filipino than corrupt government officials that steal from the nation’s coffers. He is more Filipino than the police and military that harass, arrest and kill workers, peasants and indigenous peoples. He is more Filipino than Duterte who willingly surrenders our freedom and sovereignty to foreign powers,” the labor center exclaimed.
Meanwhile, labor group Defend Jobs Philippines likened the situation to that of Sister Patricia Fox, an Australian nun and human rights defender who was deported for criticizing Duterte back in 2018.
“Instead of deporting, harassing and prosecuting foreign nationals like Fox and De Vries, the current administration must have thanked and appreciated their efforts in volunteering to uphold, promote and defend our working people’s fundamental rights for secured jobs, higher wages, safe workplaces, labor rights protection among others – which should have been the role of the State in the first place,” said the organization.
The Student Christian Movement of the Philippines (SCMP) also defended de Vries, pointing out that NCIA’s red-tagging acts were because they are a part of Duterte’s National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC).
“Otto de Vries is not a terrorist. The government’s allegations against Otto are based on the long-refuted accusation that Church work that serves the marginalized in our country is a front for terrorism. This is an affront to our apostolic mission to serve the poor masses, especially in these perilous times for the people,” said SCMP.
SCMP added that in time Duterte and his state forces will all regret their persecutions against the faithful, and called on the Christian youth to defend Church workers facing state terrorism. [P]
Photo from Defend Jobs Philippines / Facebook