The decision to expel Australian missionary Patricia Fox from the Philippines, her mission field of 27 years, is a mistake; it is not only a mistake, it is an outrage; it is not only an outrage, it is a stain on the Filipino character; it is not only a stain on the Filipino character, it is a legal manipulation.
Following the lead of President Duterte, who ordered her investigated for “disorderly conduct,” the Bureau of Immigration on Wednesday revoked Fox’s visa, giving her 30 days to leave the country. The President had denounced her “shameful mouth,” and pronounced that foreigners on Philippine soil had no business criticizing the government. “You don’t have the right to criticize us. You can come here to enjoy all the sights,” he said.
This is a mistake, and a serious one. Foreigners do not lose their universal rights, their basic civil liberties, when they land in the Philippines. There may be proscriptions on their exercise, but their right to complain and criticize is unimpaired. How can we attract tourists in the numbers we need, if they cannot complain about substandard service and criticize the lack of support infrastructure? How can we retain the foreign investors who are making plans to leave, if their complaints about bureaucratic red tape and their criticism of continuing corruption are not only ignored but disallowed? We cannot seriously expect foreigners to “enjoy all the sights,” and then keep quiet when they see something wrong.
The sad truth is that Fox is in the government’s gunsights because she is a Catholic missionary who lives the Christian gospel by living with and alleviating the plight of the poor, the defenseless, the victimized. Indeed, her lawyers believe she became the unlikely focus of the Duterte administration’s ire when she joined a fact-finding inquiry into alleged human rights violations in Mindanao. This is an outrage; attention should be paid to the allegations, not to the people trying to discover the facts behind them.
The President’s reference to her “shameful mouth” suggests he must have heard her speak, or heard recordings of her public statements. But Fox, who speaks fluently in our own languages, denied ever having criticized the President. Malacañang has shown photos of her speaking before what look like protest actions. But in one instance, she was visiting political prisoners in Tagum City, and both the warden and the deputy warden spoke at the same program; in the other instance, she said she visited with contractual workers laid off at the Coca-Cola factory in Davao City. “I went there to find out about the situation and also to give them support,” she said. “The social teaching of the Catholic Church says there’s a right to unionize, right for just wages, right for security of tenure. And being there in solidarity with them.”
This is what makes this entire episode a stain on the Filipino character. Fox has done a very religious thing, something a majority of Filipinos, even those who aren’t particularly religious, empathize with: looking after both body and soul of the weak and the vulnerable. She has done that for almost three decades; she certainly did not expect, at the age of 71, that the country she calls her second home would change so drastically as to kick her out. BI officials, who were solicitous toward her during her 24 hours in detention, have also gone out of their way to minimize the impact of the visa revocation. She hasn’t been declared persona non grata, they said; she can always come back as a tourist.
But this does not in fact lessen the sting; rather, it sharpens it, because these very Filipino acts of courtesy remind us that kicking her out of the country is un-Filipino. Her written statement after the revocation was poignant. “Whatever happens, I will be forever grateful to all those Filipinos that I call my friends and for all those from both church and sectors who have supported me through this time. I may lose my right to be in the Philippines but I can never lose the learnings and beautiful memories.”
What makes it all worse is that the Philippine government took unaccountable shortcuts. Fox was detained even though she was not caught in the act of committing a crime; she was told she had 10 days to submit a counteraffidavit to contest her
deportation; she found out on Wednesday her visa had already been revoked. This is not the majesty of the law, but its manipulation.
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