Aussie nun re­leased, faces de­por­ta­tion

The Philippine Star - - FRONT PAGE - By EVE­LYN MACAIRAN

A 71-year-old Aus­tralian Catholic mis­sion­ary walked out of de­ten­tion at the Bu­reau of Im­mi­gra­tion (BI) yes­ter­day, hours af­ter be­ing held for al­leged in­volve­ment in anti-gov­ern­ment ac­tiv­i­ties in vi­o­la­tion of the con­di­tions for her stay in the coun­try.

Sis­ter Pa­tri­cia Anne Fox left the BI’s Civil Se­cu­rity Unit (CSU) at around 3:15 p.m., more than an hour af­ter her re­lease was an­nounced and al­most 24 hours af­ter she was held for ques­tion­ing at the agency’s main of­fice in In­tra­muros, Manila.

Im­mi­gra­tion au­thor­i­ties said Fox re­mains un­der in­ves­ti­ga­tion for pos­si­ble de­por­ta­tion.

On Mon­day, six im­mi­gra­tion agents went to Fox’s house in Que­zon City to serve her a mis­sion or­der.

BI Com­mis­sioner Jaime Morente ap­proved yes­ter­day the rec­om­men­da­tion of the agency’s le­gal divi­sion chief Arvin

Ce­sar San­tos to re­lease the nun for fur­ther in­ves­ti­ga­tion af­ter she was able to pro­duce her pass­port and prove that her mis­sion­ary visa is valid un­til Sept. 9.

She had to leave her pass­port at the BI to en­sure that she would at­tend the le­gal pro­ceed­ings.

She was re­leased to the cus­tody of her lawyer Jobert Ilarde Pahilga and for­mer Bayan Muna rep­re­sen­ta­tive Satur Ocampo.

San­tos told Morente that Fox was not en­gaged in protest ac­tions when served the mis­sion or­der.

This means, San­tos said, that Fox is not cov­ered by in­quest pro­ceed­ings which would only ap­ply to aliens caught in fla­grante vi­o­lat­ing im­mi­gra­tion laws.

He added that un­der BI rules, Fox should un­dergo pre­lim­i­nary in­ves­ti­ga­tion to de­ter­mine if de­por­ta­tion charges should be filed against her be­fore the bu­reau’s board of com­mis­sion­ers.

“As of now there is no suf­fi­cient ba­sis to hold her in con­tin­u­ous de­ten­tion. The case has not yet been dis­missed and we are re­quired to file our counter af­fi­davit in 10 days from to­day to an­swer the al­le­ga­tions that she par­tic­i­pated in anti-gov­ern­ment ral­lies,” Pahilga said.

He said pho­tos pro­vided to the BI by the Na­tional In­tel­li­gence Co­or­di­nat­ing Agency (NICA) in Re­gion 11 show­ing Fox at a rally in Tagum, Davao were used as ba­sis for hold­ing her for ques­tion­ing.

But Pahilga said that Fox was able to give a sat­is­fac­tory ex­pla­na­tion that it was not a rally. “They were vis­it­ing farm­ers who were in prison which is part of her ad­vo­cacy as a mis­sion­ary to pro­mote jus­tice, peace and hu­man rights, so there was no prob­a­ble cause as of now. But since there is a for­mal com­plaint we need to file an an­swer and to un­dergo the pro­ceed­ings,” her lawyer said.

He added they might file a mo­tion that she be al­lowed to leave for Aus­tralia in May. He said Fox would cer­tainly re­turn to con­tinue her mis­sion­ary work in the Philip­pines.

Fox has been liv­ing in the Philip­pines for the last 27 years. She has learned to speak Filipino and Visayan.

“She is not an un­de­sir­able (alien). Her work here is very much de­sired by the farm­ers and the indige­nous peo­ple,” Pahilga pointed out.

Fox said that when she was brought to the BI, she thought that she would just an­swer ques­tions.

Un­ex­pected

When asked if her de­ten­tion was a form of gov­ern­ment ha­rass­ment, she said, “I have been liv­ing in the coun­try since the 1990s, around 27 years, and this is the first time that has hap­pened to me.”

She also de­nied join­ing antigov­ern­ment ral­lies, as al­leged by the BI. “(They were) not anti-gov­ern­ment ral­lies. As a re­li­gious, I have been join­ing pro-hu­man rights ral­lies, for the farm­ers, for their land rights, to re­lease po­lit­i­cal pris­on­ers,” she said.

“So if you call it po­lit­i­cal, I call it part of our duty as re­li­gious that we sup­port the poor, which is sup­posed to be where we’re stand­ing with the poor. I haven’t joined po­lit­i­cal ral­lies in terms of party pol­i­tics, but I have been ac­tive in hu­man rights is­sues,” Fox main­tained.

Fox, who is suf­fer­ing from back pains, slept on the floor in­side the BI-CSU. Ac­cord­ing to her com­pan­ion Sis­ter Joey, Fox was pro­vided one blan­ket that she used as a mat­tress. She had no ex­tra blan­ket to pro­tect her from the cold draft from an air-con­di­tion­ing unit.

She re­port­edly slept for only two hours – from 2 a.m. to 4 a.m. – and took three pain re­lief pills to help ease her back pain. She also failed to take her in­jec­tion Mon­day night for her back pain.

Sev­eral mem­bers of the re­li­gious such as Manila Aux­il­iary Bishop Brod­er­ick Pa­billo, Mon­signor Cle­mente Ig­na­cio of the Arch­dio­cese of Manila, emer­i­tus Kalookan Bishop Deogra­cias Iniguez, Sis­ter Mary John Manan­zan and run­ning priest Fr. Robert Reyes vis­ited her dur­ing her de­ten­tion.

Some mil­i­tant groups also staged a de­mon­stra­tion out­side the BI of­fice de­mand­ing her re­lease.

The Com­mis­sion on Hu­man Rights (CHR) said the gov­ern­ment should fol­low due process in han­dling any de­por­ta­tion case against Fox.

“We urge the gov­ern­ment to ob­serve the rule of law and en­sure pro­tec­tion of hu­man dig­nity by re­spect­ing of the rights of all, while we care­fully con­sider our na­tional in­ter­ests,” CHR spokesper­son Jacque­line de Guia said.

“Even for­eign na­tion­als are granted the right to peace­ful assem­bly so long as they do not in­ter­fere with na­tional se­cu­rity, pub­lic safety, pub­lic or­der, pub­lic health or morals or the rights and free­doms of oth­ers,” she added.

Sen. Nancy Bi­nay, chair of the Sen­ate com­mit­tee on so­cial jus­tice, said the BI had ex­er­cised “ex­ces­sive use of au­thor­ity” in ar­rest­ing Fox.

“The ques­tion is, how can a 71-year-old nun be a threat to so­ci­ety? How can an Aus­tralian re­li­gious per­son be as out­lawed as those Chi­nese syn­di­cates in the coun­try in­volved in drugs, gam­bling and pros­ti­tu­tion?” she said.

She main­tained the BI “clearly over­re­acted on some­thing that is not of clear and present dan­ger.”

Sen. Fran­cis Pangili­nan, pres­i­dent of the Lib­eral Party, also as­sailed the BI for Fox’s ar­rest and Gi­a­como Filibeck’s de­por­ta­tion.

“The emerg­ing trend on crack­down against for­eign ac­tivists in the coun­try is alarm­ing as ex­hib­ited by the ha­rass­ment and ca­sual ar­rests of the two hu­man rights ad­vo­cates, who were not even in protest ac­tiv­i­ties or ral­lies when taken into cus­tody,” Pangili­nan said.

“These in­ci­dents will trig­ger more ques­tions on what the gov­ern­ment is try­ing to con­ceal,” he said.

Probe sought

Law­mak­ers are also seek­ing con­gres­sional in­quiries into the de­ten­tion, ar­rest and de­por­ta­tion of for­eign ac­tivists.

Ak­bayan Rep. Tom Vil­larin yes­ter­day said he would file a res­o­lu­tion ask­ing the House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives to look into the de­ten­tion and de­por­ta­tion on Sun­day of Filibeck.

For their part, left­ist partylist rep­re­sen­ta­tives be­long­ing to the Mak­abayan bloc said they would seek an in­quiry into the ar­rest and de­ten­tion of Fox.

“He was part of an in­ter­na­tional mis­sion that vis­ited com­mu­ni­ties af­fected by ex­tra­ju­di­cial killings last year and openly called for a probe into the on­go­ing drug war of Pres­i­dent Duterte in a press con­fer­ence in Oc­to­ber in Manila,” Vil­larin said, re­fer­ring to Filibeck.

The Ital­ian ac­tivist’s de­por­ta­tion “only shows how para­noid this gov­ern­ment is in keep­ing the rest of the world blind from the dam­age Pres­i­dent Duterte has done to our coun­try,” he said.

MIGUEL DE GUZ­MAN

Aus­tralian mis­sion­ary Sis­ter Pa­tri­cia Fox is wel­comed by hu­man rights ac­tivists as she is es­corted by im­mi­gra­tion of­fi­cers fol­low­ing her re­lease from the Bu­reau of Im­mi­gra­tion com­pound in Manila yes­ter­day.

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