Duterte: ‘I ordered probe of Aussie nun’
President Rodrigo Duterte on Wednesday said he had ordered immigration authorities to pick up and investigate the Australian nun, Sister Patricia Fox, for “disorderly conduct” and would take responsibility for any consequences.
The President had harsh words for the 71-year-old nun and warned that he would not tolerate foreign visitors who insult the Philippines, which he said was a violation of the country’s sovereignty.
“You come here and insult us, you trample with our sovereignty. That will never happen,” he said at the change of command ceremony of the Armed Forces of the Philippines at Camp Aguinaldo, which was attended by foreign diplomats.
“I assure you,” he added, “if you begin to malign, defame government in any of those rallies there, I will order your arrest.”
Fox, who has been working as a missionary in the Philippines for the past 27 years, has denied taking part in any partisan political activity and said she only joined rallies advocating human rights.
The opposition Makabayan bloc in the House of Representatives denounced the government’s move against Fox.
“The Makabayan bloc representatives see this as part of the Duterte administration’s crackdown against critics, the opposition and even human rights advocates,” the group said.
Fox has been involved in human rights advocacy and missionary work in the Philippines as a member of the Sisters of Our Lady of Sion. Her current missionary visa is valid until Sept. 9.
The Makabayan lawmakers said Fox had long been supporting poor and landless farmers in the country.
“Helping the poor is not a crime and joining peace activities to advocate for peasant welfare and human rights is not against the law,” they said.
On April 6-9, Fox participated in the International Fact-Finding and Solidarity Mission in Mindanao that “investigated various forms of rights abuses against farmers and ‘lumad’” in Mindanao, they said.
Before the President’s speech at the AFP rites, his spokesperson, Harry Roque, said immigration officials seemed to have made a mistake when they took Fox into custody on Monday.
However, Roque defended the government’s decision to bar the entry of Italian socialist Giacomo Filibeck over the weekend, invoking laws that bar foreigners from meddling in Philippine politics.
“But the difference here is that there seems to be a mistake in the case of Sister Fox and perhaps apologies are in order because she was quickly released,” Roque said in a television interview.
Filibeck, deputy secretary general of the Party of European Socialists, was stopped at Mactan-Cebu International Airport in Lapu-Lapu City on Sunday and was immediately deported.
Filibeck was supposed to attend the two-day Congress of the opposition Akbayan party-list.
Fox was released on Tuesday for further investigation of the complaint against her reportedly prompted by the military.
“So maybe the CID also makes mistakes,” Roque said, referring to the Fox case.
But the President said he would take “full responsibility, legal or otherwise, for this incident” and offered no apology for his action against the Australian nun.
The President cleared the military of any involvement in the “arrest” of Fox.
“It was upon my orders,” he said. “I ordered her to be investigated … for disorderly conduct.”
Instead of criticizing the Philippine government, Fox, the President said, should look into the human rights situation in Australia, especially its treatment of Aborigines and “hungry and dying” refugees, referring to the Rohingya who had fled Myanmar.
“Why don’t you yak about that?” he said.
Fox, he said, was “too presumptuous” about human rights violations in the Philippines when the situation was supposedly “much worse” in Australia.
“At least, here, I am killing criminals. How about you?” the President said.
“Men, women and children seeking sanctuary under the heat of the sun and the coldness of the night, you drove them back to where they came from and you know they were also being rejected from the country which they were trying to flee,” he said, referring to Rohingya refugees.
He said foreigners were welcome to visit the country but if they treated the Philippines like a floor mat “to wipe with your feet—that is something else.”
Jobert Pahilga, a lawyer for Fox, said she was a missionary who happened to be assigned to the Philippines.
“So, as part of her missionary work, she calls the injustices she found here. She would have done the same if she were in Australia,” Pahilga said.
“The call to stop injustice is also a universal call. So somebody who stands for justice and human rights wherever he or she maybe has to testify against injustice and violation of human rights,” he added.
The President said that as Chief Executive “I give the orders, and the order of who gets in and who goes out (of the country) is with me.”
“I will say, being head, being there in that office in Pasig, ‘Let her in because she is a good person [or] don’t allow her in because that nun has a shameless mouth,’” he said.
“You do not have that right to criticize us. But you can come here and enjoy all the sights. And even I could invite you,” he added.
The Commission on Human Rights (CHR) said “even foreign nationals are granted the right to peaceful assembly so long as they do not interfere with national security, public safety, public order, public health or morals or the rights and freedoms of others.”
In a statement, CHR spokesperson Jacqueline Ann de Guia said the government had the mandate to protect the human rights of all people in the country, including foreigners like Fox.
“This includes ensuring that everyone, including Australian nun Patricia Fox, is granted due process while we assert our national laws,” De Guia said. —With reports from Jaymee T. Gamil, DJ Yap, Tina G. Santos and AFP
Subscribe to our global nation newsletter
Subscribe to INQUIRER PLUS to get access to The Philippine Daily Inquirer & other 70+ titles, share up to 5 gadgets, listen to the news, download as early as 4am & share articles on social media. Call 896 6000.