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Editorial

Let her stay

/ 05:12 AM June 24, 2018

Sister Patricia Fox, a 71-year-old Australian nun, is the Mother Superior of the Sisters of Our Lady of Sion. She first came to the Philippines in 1990 as a volunteer missionary and has been here since, devoting her life to caring for poor and rural Filipinos. She learned to speak the language, and lived in the poor communities she ministered to.

But after 27 years of toiling in obscurity in the country’s impoverished corners, Fox gained unwanted attention in April when President Duterte ordered the Bureau of Immigration to investigate her.

She was arrested, her missionary visa revoked, and was ordered to leave the country in 30 days.

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Her crime?

“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.

Mr. Duterte took full responsibility, saying he ordered the BI to take action because of Fox’s “disorderly conduct” and foul mouth.

“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.”

He was apparently referring to speeches Fox had made in propoor rallies where she called on the government to respect the human rights of workers, farmers and other destitute Filipinos.

The cancellation of Fox’s missionary visa and threatened deportation drew widespread outrage.

“Helping the poor is not a crime and joining peace activities to advocate for peasant welfare and human rights is not against the law,” the Makabayan bloc in Congress pointed out.

Added Sorsogon Bishop Arturo Bastes: “Sister Pat has the right and duty to denounce (Mr. Duterte) for his program to kill persons extrajudicially.”

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For her part, Fox explained that “[J]oining or participating in activities that call for [the] implementation of social justice and respect for human rights are part and parcel of my missionary work.”

Her life was now in the Philippines, she added, and wished to continue her missionary work among marginalized Filipinos.

Think about it: In a country where so many leave to seek better lives elsewhere, here is one person who came to help and stayed — and is refusing to leave even when things have been made difficult for her.

Castigated by the Palace as an undesirable alien, Fox simply went back to her missionary work, while Malacañang deployed its might to fast-track the process of booting her out.

Then, a breakthrough. On June 19, Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra, in surprisingly strong words, voided the BI order canceling Fox’s missionary visa.

“What the BI did in this case is beyond what the law provides. That is why it has to be struck down,” said Guevarra in his resolution. “This office cannot sanction BI’s resort to a visa forfeiture procedure and [its] orders against Fox… To hold otherwise will legitimize its assertion of a power that does not exist in our laws.”

Guevarra deserves to be commended for this decision, though it is only half the battle. While her papers to stay in the country have been declared aboveboard, Fox continues to face  deportation proceedings, with the BI set to conduct further hearings.

The bureau should take its cue from the justice department, and drop all adverse proceedings against Fox. There is no rational, much less humane, justification for going after a frail, unarmed, elderly nun who, for nearly three decades now,  has committed every day of her life to caring for the poorest, most vulnerable Filipinos. The DOJ righted a wrong when it reversed the BI’s peremptory order, but the remaining threat of deportation hanging over Fox’s head is both an absurd and cruel aggravation.

Malacañang still has time to change course by ordering the BI to let her stay unimpeded. It is the right thing to do.

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TAGS: Australian missionary, Bureau of Immigration, Department of Justice, DOJ, Inquirer editorial, Menardo Guevarra, Patricia Fox, Rodrigo Duterte
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