Farewell for now, Sister Pat
Filipinos of a certain age still remember the scene at the airport when a number of our countryfolk decided to bid the departing Beatles a most fervid “farewell.”
Claiming to be incensed at the way the Fab Four had “offended” the sensibilities of the First Family, particularly Imelda Marcos and her children, when they allegedly snubbed an invitation to join the Marcoses and their friends at a get-together in Malacañang, “concerned citizens” lined up all along the exit route of the world-famous band and inflicted physical punishment on them. The Beatles were kicked, pummeled, pushed, abused and cursed, chased to their plane seats and given indelible memories of Filipino hospitality.
Perhaps this won’t happen when Sister Patricia Fox leaves the country as scheduled either today or tomorrow. But given the treatment she’s received since President Duterte ordered the Australian missionary to be investigated (and briefly detained) in April, she has been treated with unrelenting abuse from the government, albeit couched in civilized and legalistic language. She may look fine and bear no traces from the outside of bruising or broken bones. But the scars surely remain imprinted in her mind and heart.
This is especially true because, when “Sister Foxy,” as friends call her, decided to make the Philippines her home 27 years ago, she did so with the dream and vision to work and live among the poorest, the humblest, the most powerless of Filipinos. It is a decision she did not make casually or lightheartedly. It required her to live a life of penury and hardship, and at times put her in the crosshairs of the powerful, among them no less than the President.
Indeed, it was Mr. Duterte himself who summed up most succinctly Sister Pat’s offense. She deserved to be deported, he said, because of “disorderly conduct” and having a “foul mouth” (provoking thoughts about the pot calling the kettle black).
“You come here and insult us, you trample with our sovereignty. That will never happen,” he said in April. “I assure you, if you begin to malign, defame (the) government in any of those rallies there, I will order your arrest.”
To be sure, plenty of others have rushed to Sister Pat’s side, the latest being Bishop Arturo Bastes of Sorsogon who said it was “wrong” for the government to identify the 72-year-old nun as an undesirable alien. “I am very disappointed with the unfair and unjust deportation of Sister Fox, who has been sacrificing her life and using her personal strength and efforts for the upliftment of the life of fellow ‘lumad’ Filipinos, the genuine and original inhabitants of our God-given land,” said Bastes.
Sister Pat’s “crime” it seems, is not so much speaking out in rallies where she denounced the killing of innocents and the harassment of tribal communities. Rather, it is daring to question the prerogatives of government when it goes against the helpless and the poor, particularly in violating the rights of lumad communities who are merely defending their ancestral domain.
That Sister Pat happened to be here on a “missionary visa” during her nearly 30 years of service is a technicality that the government’s lawyers exploited to the full. Her “alien” status rendered her vulnerable to the state’s machinations. But so many others, despite their being Filipino citizens, have likewise paid the price for being outspoken in their dissent—including, it must be noted, the ultimate punishment of death by lethal gunfire or jail time in our congested prisons.
Sister Pat has said that she still hopes to return and resume her life’s work when and if conditions turn in her favor. In the meantime, as she prepares to fly out of the country, practically shooed out by a government seemingly in mortal fear of a frail, soft-spoken 72-year-old nun, she deserves a “pabaon” or keepsake: the gratitude of a grateful nation touched by her devotion to her mission and her abiding love for Filipinos. The memory of Sister Pat’s presence and good deeds are an inspiration and example to all conscientious Filipinos to fight on, especially on behalf of their fellow citizens who are unable to fight for themselves.
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