Supporters of Sister Patricia Fox: Many will take her place
Australian missionary Sister Patricia Fox may have been driven out of the country by the Duterte administration but there are many who will take her place in helping poor and voiceless Filipinos struggling for a better life, her supporters said on Saturday.
During a farewell news conference on Saturday, the 72-year-old nun, who was declared an “undesirable alien” by the government at the instigation of President Rodrigo Duterte, called on Filipinos to speak up and help the marginalized fight to gain land, houses and jobs.
In a statement, the human rights group Karapatan said by forcing Fox out of the country the government showed contempt for those who promote peace and social justice.
“They thought that without this nun, the poor will be rendered voiceless,” the group said. “They are sorely mistaken. There are more individuals like Sister Patricia Fox, and we will stand with them always, just as how they have stood with the oppressed.”
Caloocan Bishop Emeritus Deogracias Iñiguez believes more priests and bishops “would have their eyes opened and would do the right actions” while other missionaries would have “strengthened their resolve” after seeing what had happened to the elderly nun.
“Our missionaries, with the proper zeal, they know what they should push for. [She] is a good example that they can emulate,” Iñiguez said.
The President in April ordered Fox investigated for “disorderly conduct.” She was subsequently accused of taking part in news conferences, labor-related fact-finding missions and protests calling for political prisoners to be freed, for human rights and land rights to be respected and for the lifting of martial law in Mindanao.
She had admitted joining rallies but said these were “neither political nor partisan but part and parcel of my apostolate and missionary work” among farmers and indigenous peoples.
Senator Francis Pangilinan said deporting Fox was “not a sign of power and strength” of the administration.
“It is a sign of great fear, of cowardice and of weakness,” he said in a statement on Saturday.
The administration is so afraid of losing power that it would even go after a nun who dared to speak out about abuses, he said.
Presidential spokesperson Salvador Panelo, however, defended the government’s action against Fox.
Her participation in rallies “violated the conditions of her stay, thereby mocking our laws, and abusing the hospitality” of the country, he said in a statement.
He said actions taken against Fox was not an “injustice” or the “silencing” of freedom of expression.
“Freedom of expression remains unbridled in this part of the world,” Panelo said, adding that the nun was given due process when she was allowed to challenge the Bureau of Immigration’s decision nullifying her missionary visa.
“Our advice to Sister Fox is to follow the law whether here or elsewhere. Otherwise, the law of cause and effect will operate against her, as it did in this particular instance,” he added.
But Panelo also wished Fox well and thanked her “for whatever good deeds she has performed during her stay in the country.”
Dozens of activists, laborers, priests, nuns and tribal folk thanked Fox by celebrating a Mass in her honor before sending her off to the airport.
A lawyers’ group backing Fox, the National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers, said that by persecuting a frail and low-key missionary, the President has turned her into an “overnight rock star.”
The soft-spoken Fox is a coordinator of the Religieuse De Notre Dame De Sion, also called the Notre Dame de Sion (NDS), which was known to have helped save Jews persecuted by the Nazis during World War II.
The plight of the Australian missionary strengthened other people’s commitment to serve the poor, according to Father Angel Cortez, who said Mass.
“We want to ease our sadness this morning, and despite our sorrow, we also have resolved to win victories in our struggles alongside Sister Pat,” he said in his homily.
Cortez also urged Filipinos not to keep quiet about what’s happening in the country.
“Sister Fox is right. We won’t be silenced,” he said.
At another gathering at the National Shrine of Our Mother of Perpetual Help in Baclaran, Parañaque City, women and children gave her flowers and sang “Pananagutan,” a church hymn by Jesuit priest Eduardo Hontiveros that calls on the faithful to live for others.
Lumad groups gave her a purple tubaw, a handwoven headdress worn by people indigenous people in Mindanao.
Fox said she was disappointed not because she was forced to leave but that she was unable to do more. “My only regret is I feel that what I did here was not enough,” she said.
She said she was sad to leave the Philippines, which she has called home for nearly three decades, but her experience over the past six months fighting her deportation did not dampen her spirit.
“There is no time to get tired in this struggle,” she said. “We cannot stop until there is justice and peace. Even if I’m not here, I will continue to be vocal. I will struggle with the people in a different form.”
Fox urged the clergy to be more responsive to the call of the times, quoting Pope Francis who said a true Christian does not remain silent in the face of human rights violations.
“Pope Francis said that if you’re a Christian and there’s massive human rights violations … you should take action, make noise. Where the oppressed are, the church people should be there, not only always talking but with them and hopefully more vocal,” she said.
Fox told The Associated Press that the President’s anti-drug crackdown was “horribly barbaric.”
“I know a lot of mothers, wives who have lost someone. You have no right to take a life just like that without justice,” she said.
Fox’s lawyer, Jobert Pahilga, said there it was uncertain whether she could return after she was blacklisted by the immigration authorities.
“[Her case] sets a precedent on the dos and dont’s of missionaries here. [Their vocation] is a mix of freedom of expression and religion, and the Constitution said that the state should not meddle with religious freedom. Their acts are pursuant to the social teachings of the Church,” he said.
At the Ninoy Aquino International Airport, Fox waved goodbye to dozens of her supporters who sent her off and blew a kiss to them before she entered the airport terminal.
Reports from Jovic Yee, Melvin Gascon, Leila B. Salaverria, Faye Orellana, Dexter Cabalza and AP
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