Philippines turns Australian nun loose after visa row

Sister Fox must face probe and answer charges she engaged in illegal political activities amid deportation threat
Philippines turns Australian nun loose after visa row

Australian nun Patricia Fox emerges from the Bureau of Immigration in Manila on April 17 following her release from detention. Authorities arrested the Catholic missionary nun for allegedly violating the conditions of her stay in the country. (Photo by Jire Carreon/

The Philippines' Bureau of Immigration released Australian missionary nun Patricia Fox from detention on April 17, one day after she was arrested for allegedly violating the conditions of her stay in the country.

The bureau let the 71 year old go after her lawyers submitted her passport and other immigration documents showing she had a valid missionary visa.

Sister Fox, who is Philippine superior of the Sisters of Our Lady of Sion, an international Catholic congregation, has been working in the country for the past 27 years.

Immigration officials arrested the nun at her convent in Quezon City on April 16 for being an "undesirable alien" because of her participation in protest rallies and for reportedly "engaging in political activities."

Amongst the evidence presented by authorities were pictures of the nun taken during a jail visit in the southern Philippines with a banner that reads "Stop Killing Farmers."

The nun admitted that she joined a fact-finding and solidarity mission that looked into human rights abuses committed against farmers and tribal people in Mindanao.

In a statement to journalists after her release, Sister Fox said it is "part of our duty as religious that we support the poor, which is supposed to be where we're standing with the poor."

"I haven't joined political rallies in terms of party politics, but I have been active in human rights issues," said the nun.

The immigration bureau said Sister Fox would still have to undergo a preliminary investigation and answer the charge that she joined protest rallies.

"As a religious [person] I've been joining pro-human rights rallies for farmers for their land rights, to release political prisoners," said the nun.

Sister Fox's counsel, Jobert Pahilga, said she would have to sit through a preliminary investigation because a formal complaint has been filed by the authorities.

"Our next step is how to get the case dismissed, because she's not an undesirable alien. Her work is very much desired by farmers and indigenous peoples," said the lawyer.


Authorities deny crackdown

Immigration bureau spokeswoman Antonette Mangrobang denied allegations by activist groups that the nun's arrest was part of a wider crackdown on foreigners who are critical of the government.

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"There is no crackdown. We are just implementing our existing regulations," said Mangrobang.

Manila Auxiliary Bishop Broderick Pabillo said the Philippine government seems to be using the machinery of state "to bring down people, whoever and whatever their condition may be."

"Let us be wary. This government cannot take dissent," said the prelate, adding that, "the grip is getting tighter ... on people who manifest dissent against the abuses of the government."

"This is already happening without martial law. What would it be if there were martial law, which hangs heavy in the air," said Bishop Pabillo.

Protesters gather outside the gates of the Bureau of Immigration in Manila to call for the immediate release of Sister Patricia Fox, who was detained by authorities on April 16 for allegedly violating the conditions of her stay in the country. (Photo by Jire Carreon/


The arrest and detention of Sister Fox came a day after an official of the Party of European Socialists was barred from entering the Philippines on April 15.

Italian national Giacomo Filibeck, deputy secretary-general of the party, was deported by immigration officials at Mactan-Cebu International Airport.

Filibeck was part of an international human rights mission in October last year that looked into alleged human rights violations in the Philippines.

In February this year, the immigration bureau in the southern city of General Santos arrested five foreign members of an international solidarity mission.

On April 13, President Rodrigo Duterte warned Fatou Bensouda, a prosecutor at the International Criminal Court, that she would be barred from entering the country.

The International Criminal Court is currently looking into alleged abuses committed by the Philippine government especially in its anti-narcotics campaign.


Emerging trend of harassment

The opposition Liberal Party warned of an "emerging trend of cracking down on foreign activists" who are critical of Duterte and his administration.

The party said the situation has become "alarming" with the "harassment and casual arrests" of the political activists and human rights advocates.

"These incidents will trigger more questions on what the government is trying to conceal," read the party's statement.

Opposition senator Nancy Binay also blasted the authorities for what she described as an "excessive use of authority" in the arrest of Sister Fox.

"How can a 71-year-old nun be a threat to society?" asked the legislator.

"How can an Australian religious person be as outlawed as those Chinese syndicates in the country that are involved in drugs, gambling and prostitution?" she added.

Activists held a protest outside the bureau's office in Manila to demand the nun's immediate release.

Peter Murphy, chairman of the International Coalition for Human Rights, said Sister Fox is "not a prominent person in terms of public denunciations of the government."

"It's pretty outstanding they have decided to hit her with a sledgehammer," said Murphy, a friend of the nun.


Foreigners 'should follow the law'

Philippine authorities, however, said foreigners should follow the country's laws regardless of their race, beliefs or political affiliations.

"We shall implement our immigration laws fairly and uniformly, without regard to color, race or creed," said Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra.

"[Sister Fox's] case has nothing to do with her being a nun, nor with her personal advocacies," said the Department of Justice head.

Duterte's spokesman, Harry Roque, also justified the arrest.

"One condition that we imposed on all foreigners is that they desist from participating in any form of political activities," said Roque, a lawyer.

"This is not an arrest. This is an order, an investigation whether or not to deport Sister Patricia Fox," he added.

Senate President Aquilino Pimentel said the Philippines has a law that bars foreigners from meddling in the country's internal political affairs.

"If we want Filipinos to follow our laws then we should show our own people that foreigners are not above our laws," said the legislator.

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