Sister Patricia Fox challenges expulsion order
The Bureau of Immigration (BI) has ordered an elderly Australian nun who has angered President Rodrigo Duterte to leave the country in 30 days.
In a one-page order issued on Monday, the BI revoked Sister Patricia Fox’s missionary visa before it was to expire on Sept. 5. It also directed the deactivation of her alien certificate of registration.
“She was found to have engaged in activities that are not allowed under the terms and conditions of her visa,” Immigration Commissioner Jaime Morente said on Wednesday.
Fox, a 71-year-old missionary belonging to the Our Lady of Sion congregation, was detained for a day last week after Mr. Duterte ordered her investigated for “disorderly conduct.”
The President harshly criticized the nun for having a “shameful mouth” and warned that he would not tolerate foreign visitors insulting 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. “I assure you, if you begin to malign, defame [the] government in any of those rallies there, I will order your arrest.”
Fox’s lawyer, Jobert Pahilga, said he would ask immigration authorities to reconsider their decision although it appeared to have been made upon the President’s orders.
“The President has spoken. We take it as his marching order for the BI to deport Sister Pat,” Pahilga said.
He said he had not expected the BI move, as Fox was given until May 4 to file a counteraffidavit answering complaints that she violated immigration rules.
Pahilga said BI documents supposedly showed Fox had openly and actively participated in activities such as rallies, press conferences and fact-finding missions, which are alleged violations of her missionary visa, making her an undesirable alien.
“The charge that Sister Pat is an undesirable alien has no basis in fact and in law,” Pahilga said.
He said she was not engaged in antigovernment activities and all her actions had been “consistent with her missionary work of promoting peace, social justice and human rights.”
In a statement, Fox said she was surprised at the order to expel her.
“I am very sad that the decision at present is that I leave the Philippines,” she said. “I may lose my right to be in the Philippines but I can never lose the learnings and beautiful memories.”
She said she had worked in the Philippines since 1990 with poor farmers and tribal people in the rural areas, and with workers in urban centers where she had learned how they were impoverished.
As a Christian, she said, she had to get involved in projects to uplift their livelihood and also to push for their rights to land, peace, justice, security and human rights.
“It seems this is what has brought me into conflict with the Philippine government. I am still hoping for a chance to explain how I see my mission as a religious sister and maybe the decision can be reconsidered,” she said. (See Fox’s full statement on this page)
Opposition lawmakers condemned the BI order.
“Harassing human rights advocates and faith-based organizations and individuals may succeed in the short run but it will eventually fail,” Sen. Francis Pangilinan said in a statement, adding that the Duterte administration was acting like Hitler’s Gestapo.
Sen. Bam Aquino said he would seek a Senate probe of the order, which he said was a clear harassment of people who fight abuses.
Bayan Muna Rep. Carlos Isagani Zarate said the BI action showed the Philippines “had lost the tolerance” for the missionary’s exercise of her freedom.
“What was the government afraid of?” he asked.
Reacting to the BI decision, Senate Majority Leader Vicente Sotto III said, “Dura lex sed lex (the law may be harsh, but it is the law).”
“If that’s the law, no one is above the law,” Sotto said.
Equal protection clause
Sen. Francis Escudero called the BI order “unfortunate”
but said the grant, denial or withdrawal of a visa was “discretionary on the part of any country.”
Sen. Panfilo Lacson said the equal protection clause in the Constitution did not distinguish between foreigners and citizens of the Philippines.
The executive branch, however, could impose limitations on certain activities of foreigners that are against the interest of the state “and that is what the government has applied in the case of Sister Patricia Fox,” he said.
Lacson said Filipinos should back the BI move if allegations against Fox were proven true.
Manila Auxiliary Bishop Broderick Pabillo said the expulsion order gave no consideration to the nun’s nearly three decades of service to the Filipino people, especially the poor.
“This is very sad. All the good Sister Pat has done to help the underprivileged, which the government has not been able to serve, is glossed over and not even appreciated while the insecurity of the present government is given weight,” Pabillo said. —With reports from Leila B. Salaverria, Maila Ager, Allan Nawal and the wires
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