Sister Fox’s expulsion could set dangerous precedent for missionaries, lawyers warn
The Duterte administration’s action against Sister Patricia Fox could set “a dangerous precedent” for other missionaries and human rights workers in the Philippines, the elderly Australian nun’s legal counsels warned on Thursday.
The Bureau of Immigration (BI) revoked Fox’s missionary visa on Wednesday and gave the 71-year-old 30 days to leave the country, shortly after President Duterte described her as an “undesirable alien” involved in partisan political activities.
“If we just let the Duterte administration do this to Sister Pat, it could set a dangerous precedent for other missionaries,” lawyer Maria Sol Taule said.
“[The government] can always use this mission order and connect human rights and missionary work to so-called partisan political activities,” she added.
Jobert Pahilga, the nun’s other lawyer, said they were prepared to bring Fox’s case to the Supreme Court, as the order preempted legal proceedings and denied her due process.
“In jurisprudence, in Supreme Court decisions, a foreigner who has entered the country is already covered by the constitutional guarantee on due process of law,” Pahilga said, adding that they would submit Fox’s counteraffidavit and motion for reconsideration before the BI next week.
Fox’s lawyers also challenged the definition of “partisan political activity” used by the government in its complaints against the nun, who has been working with farmers and marginalized folk for the past 27 years.
“Is the call to stop killing farmers a partisan political activity? No, it is part of [the missionaries’] mission to promote social justice and human rights,” Pahilga said.
Fr. Oliver Castor of the Rural Missionaries of the Philippines described the government’s action as “religious persecution” and “part of a systematic silencing of government critics.”
But BI spokesperson Antonette Mangrobang maintained that under Philippine laws, Fox “[violated] immigration laws for engaging in activities that are apart from missionary work.”
She said that Fox’s missionary visa, set to expire in September, was “a privilege granted by the host government.”
“So anytime that the host government feels that you are not entitled to that privilege, they could take it back,” she added.
Fox’s visa will be downgraded to a tourist visa valid for 30 days, said Mangrobang, adding that the revocation of the nun’s missionary visa is separate from the deportation she is facing.
The nun, who belongs to the Our Lady of Sion congregation, said it was the first time she felt pressure from the government. “I’m not used to this kind of attention,” she said. “But my life is here in the Philippines.” — WITH REPORT FROM AP
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