By Robin Gomes
The Catholic bishops of the Philippines have criticized the government’s order to deport an Australian Catholic missionary nun who has been working in the country for 27 years, saying the government is systematically harassing people who criticize its policies.
The government’s Immigration Bureau (BI) on Thursday ordered the immediate deportation of Sister Patricia Fox, declaring her an "undesirable alien", saying she violated the conditions of her missionary visa. It also ordered her to be put on the bureau's "Blacklist, thus barring her re-entry into the country".
Close to the suffering people
The July 19 deportation order accused the 71-year old regional superior of the Sister of Our Lady of Sion congregation of openly and actively participating in activities such as rallies, press conferences and fact-finding missions which the immigration authority said violated the terms and conditions of her missionary visa.
The missionary has declared that the role of the religious is to be close to the people who are suffering.
Bishop Arturo Bastes of Sorsogon, the chairman of the Commission on Mission of the Catholic Bishoops' conference of the Philippines (CBCP), said the order only confirmed the “suspicion” that the government is “systematically harassing people who criticize their policies”. He called it “a very sad development” and said he was “ashamed of the government.”
He said President Rodrigo Duterte’s administration considers the nun a “threat” because of her defence of the rights of the poor and the marginalized Filipinos.
The missionary visa, which allowed Sister Fox in the country for 27 years, is only valid until Sept. 5 this year. The latest deportation order said the nun should be deported to Australia within 30 days.
Auxiliary Bishop Broderick Pabillo of Manila wondered why the government was afraid of criticism of its policies. He said Sister Fox “ has been serving our poor people for decades and this is how the government rewards her just because it is so insecure in what it is doing.” He described it as “another instance of creeping authoritarianism.”
Last week, at a press conference in Manila to present a pastoral exhortation, the CBCP commended the work of Sister Fox. Speaking at the July 9 press conference CBCP vice-president Bishop Pablo David of Kalookan , said that the work of persons like Sr. Fox should be regarded as positive and welcomed.
The Ecumenical Bishops' Forum has also called on Christian Churches to extend support to Sister Fox and to missionaries subjected to persecution because of their work with the poor.
"It is our responsibility as Christians to defend the faith and enlighten the government and those who judge us," said Bishop Emeritus Deogracias Iniguez of Kalookan who heads the forum.
"We should reiterate that the government cannot limit the definition of missionary work," bishop Iniguez said.
Appeal against deportation
Sister Fox, had been arrested and detained overnight earlier on April 16 for the same reasons. She was asked to leave the country in 30 days. However, the Philippines on June 18 nullified the deportation order.
The nun’s lawyers said they are considering an appeal to the Department of Justice to challenge the deportation order.