OZAMIZ CITY (SE): Columban Sister Kathleen Melia was assaulted shortly before 9.30pm on March 1 as she was closing the window of her house in Midsalip in the Zamboanga region of Mindanao, The Philippines.
The 70-year-old Irish missionary has lived in Midsalip since 1983, working among the Subaanen tribal people.
Sister Anne Gray, a well-known identity in Hong Kong and former superior general of the Columban Sisters, described Sister Melia’s involvement as being in education projects, livelihood programmes and defending human and land rights, which have been under constant attack from logging and mining companies.
Sister Melia was attacked by a man wearing a mask. He tried to smother her mouth while punching her in the stomach, face and chest.
The man fled when she lost consciousness. She has sustained multiple injuries.
Sister Melia was in a hospital in nearby Ozamiz City, but limited facilities demanded a transfer to Manila for more specialised treatment.
The stumbling block has been that she was judged not fit to fly unless she receives a blood transfusion first, but her blood type, B negative, is rare in Asia and an appeal has been out around the dioceses of Ozamiz and Pagadian, as well as the wider area for possible donors.
Nevertheless, Sister Gray said that her life is not currently in danger and the Columban community is confident that she is in safe hands.
The peace of the Subaanen people around Midsalip was ruptured in the early 1990s when mining concessions were granted to British and Australian companies to extract gold from the mountains.
Gold had always been a benign companion of the Subaanen, as evidenced by the bracelets and other decorative jewellery they wear. Panned from the creeks and rivers, it also serves as currency to buy food.
Over half a million acres was designated for open cut mining and the local people expressed concern at the prospect of the mountains that have sustained their people for centuries being bulldozed and flattened.
Sister Melia wrote at the time that the people were asking what would happen to the knowledge they have gathered over generations about health care and meticulous use of clean water, describing them as gifts that would be lost forever.
She was a regular on the picket lines the people set up to block the earth moving equipment from entering the zone and on more than one occasion fronted police and representatives of foreign companies, both of whom are well known for their violent methods.
People on the pickets have been murdered, bashed and threatened. Since the attack was not a robbery, it was possibly aimed at silencing her protesting voice.