Nene Pimentel: due process for nun, not authoritarian whims of those in gov’t

ILIGAN CITY (MindaNews / 28 April) –The 71-year old Australian nun who was detained overnight at the Bureau of Immigration for investigation on April 16 and on April 25 was ordered to leave within 30 days should be accorded her right to be heard because “we are a democratic country run by the rule of law, not by the authoritarian whims of those in government,” former Senate President Aquilino Pimentel, Jr. said.

The Bureau of Immigration (BI) on Wednesday forfeited the missionary visa of Sister Patricia Ann Fox of the Our Lady of Sion congregation in the Philippines, for allegedly engaging in partisan political activities.

Pimentel, now a member of the Consultative Committee that is reviewing the 1987 Constitution, told MindaNews in an e-mail late Friday night that while he believes that foreigners “should not exercise rights that belong to our citizens alone, considering the circumstances of the case of Sis Pat, there is no urgent need for her to be deported immediately” because “she does not advocate violence, she does not incite hatred, she does not urge people to do away with the rule of law.”

“In short, Sister Pat is entitled to ventilate her side of the case. That’s what due process in a democracy means,” said PImentel, a former mayor of Cagayan de Oro City who was a political detainee several times under the Marcos dictatorship.

In a statement on April 25, Fox said she woke up that morning to learn from the media that the BI had ordered her to leave within 30 days.

Fox said she was surprised “as I had thought the process was that I would have 10 days to put in a counter affidavit to answer the charges.”

“I am very sad that the decision at present is that I leave the Philippines,” she said as she expressed hope “for a chance to explain how I see my mission as a religious sister and maybe the decision can be reconsidered.”

Fox said that whatever happens, she will be “forever grateful to all those Filipinos that I call my friends and for all those from both church and sectors who have supported me through this time. I may lose my right to be in the Philippines but I can never lose the learnings and beautiful memories.”

“Eagerly volunteered”

In 1990, when her congregation was asking for volunteers, Fox “eagerly volunteered as I had Filipino friends in Australia.”

She admitted it took a while to be inculturated but the people in the rural areas where she spent most of her time, “were so patient and laughing with me at my mistakes.”

“It was through them that I came to learn some of the basic issues which caused their poverty: lack of their own lands, control of markets, dependence on pesticides. I stayed with tribal people and learnt how the mountains are their supermarkets and pharmacies, how they were excited to have their own schools which taught sustainable agriculture but also preserved their culture. But also about how large mining and logging corporations as well as plantations were threatening the life and livelihood of these rural people,” she said.

“As I lived in the city, I came to know the situation of the workers and their lack of job security which is now happening in other countries as well. As a Christian, believing that our mission is to bring God’s Kingdom to the here and now, I couldn’t help but to get involved both with projects, such as training in organic farming, to uplift the livelihood of the farmers, but also to advocate with them for their rights to land, livelihood, peace, justice and security, all universal human rights which the church sees as integral to her mission,” she added.

Fox, who served as coordinator of the Rural Missionaries of the Philippines from 2000 to 2007, participated in an international fact-finding mission in MIndanao on April 6 to 9 to look into alleged human rights violations.

Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque who had told GMA News on April 17 that what the BI did may have been a mistake and apologies were likely in order, said on April 25 that the BI’s investigation showed Fox “violated the terms and conditions of her visa. Consequently, the same must be forfeited.”

“Per BI, this was a visa forfeiture order not a decision on the deportation case. We forfeited her privilege of holding a missionary visa because of her activities which are in violation of the terms and conditions of her visa,” he said.

“My orders”

At the Change of Command of the Armed Forces of the Philippines on April 18, Duterte announced the nun’s arrest was “upon my orders implemented by the Bureau of Immigration. And I take full responsibility legal or otherwise for this incident.”

“I ordered her to be investigated, not deported at once, not arrested but to invite her to an investigation for a disorderly conduct. You know in our laws, the Philippine laws provide that I can deport you or refuse you entry if you are an undesirable alien,” he said.  (Carolyn O. Arguillas / MindaNews)