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Australian sister released after visa row

MANILA (Agencies): Sister Patricia Fox, the superior of the Sisters of Our Lady of Sion in the Philippines, was released on April 17, a day after she was detained by the Bureau of Immigration for allegedly violating the conditions of her stay in the country, UCAN reported on April 18.
The 71-year-old Australian missionary, who has been working in the Philippines for the past 27 years, was let go after  her lawyers presented her passport and other immigration documents showing she had a valid missionary visa.
Sister Fox was arrested at the congregation’s convent in Quezon City on April 16 for being an “undesirable alien” because of her participation in protest rallies and for reportedly “engaging in political activities.”
In a statement to journalists after her release, Sister Fox said it is “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,” she said.
UCAN reported that the evidence presented by authorities included photographs of the sister taken during a prison visit in the southern Philippines with a banner that read “Stop Killing Farmers.”
She admitted to joining a fact-finding and solidarity mission that looked into human rights abuses committed against farmers and tribal people in Mindanao.
The immigration bureau said Sister Fox would still have to undergo a preliminary investigation and answer the charge that she joined protest rallies.
“As a religious (person) I’ve been joining pro-human rights rallies for farmers for their land rights, to release political prisoners,” she said.
In September 2013, Sister Fox, along with a member of Congress, Fernando Hicap, of the Anakpawis partylist, were detained while on a fact-finding mission to ascertain the level freedom afforded to farmers in signing agreements on land distribution at the Hacienda Luisita plantation of the Cojuanco-Aquino family in Tarlac (Sunday Examiner, 29 September 2013).
Jobert Pahilga, Sister Fox’s counsel, said she would have to sit through a preliminary investigation because a formal complaint has been filed by the authorities.
“Our next step is how to get the case dismissed, because she’s not an undesirable alien. Her work is very much desired by farmers and indigenous peoples,” the lawyer said.
Immigration bureau spokesperson, Antonette Mangrobang, denied allegations by advocacy groups that the sister’s arrest was part of a wider crackdown on foreigners who are critical of the government.
“There is no crackdown. We are just implementing our existing regulations,” said Mangrobang.
However, The Australian newspaper reported on April 18 that the president, Rodrigo Duterte, not only defended Sister Fox’s arrest, but also claimed responsibility.
“I ordered her to be investigated, not deported at once, not arrested, but invite her to an investigation for a disorderly conduct… It was upon my orders, implemented by the BI (Bureau of Immigration), and I take full responsibility, legal or otherwise, for this incident,” The Australian quoted him as saying.
Auxiliary Bishop Broderick Pabillo of Manila said the Philippine government seems to be using the machinery of state “to bring down people, whoever and whatever their condition may be.”
UCAN quoted him as saying, “Let us be wary. This government cannot take dissent,” adding that, “the grip is getting tighter ... on people who manifest dissent against the abuses of the government.”
The Inquirer reported Duterte as ranting, “Ikaw, madre, (You, sister) why don’t you criticise your own government? The way you handled the refugees, hungry and dying, and you turn them back to the open sea,” in a reference to the immigration policies of the Australian government.
“Your god is not my god. Remember that. Stick to your own religion and try to correct the abuses within your organisation. To address homosexuality and malpractices and adulterous priests… (cussing) …” he was quoted as saying.
CPCP News reported on April 19 that Duterte said he can take criticism from Filipinos but not from foreigners, especially those staying in the country because these constitute “a violation of sovereignty.”
Bishop Pabillo, however, was quoted as saying, “Duterte is lying!”
He said, “He cannot even take criticisms from the Filipinos,” he pointed out, citing the case of a senator, Leila de Lima, a vocal critic of Duterte who was jailed over drug-related charges.
The arrest and detention of Sister Fox came a day after Giacomo Filibeck, deputy secretary-general, the Party of European Socialists was barred from entering the Philippines. He was part of an international human rights mission that looked into alleged human rights violations in the Philippines in October last year.
However, the Inquirer reported presidential spokesperson, Harry Roque, seeming to contradict the president on April 18 when he said, “Ang problema lang ay mukhang nagkamali dito kay Sister Fox (the problem is it looks like a mistake was made with Sister Fox),” adding, “Siguro (probably) apologies are in order kasi madalian naman siyang pinalabas din (she was released in short order)…”

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