31 May 2018

UCA News

A group of Philippine legislators filed a bill in the Lower House of Congress on 30 May, seeking to grant Filipino citizenship to an Australian missionary nun who has been ordered to leave the country.

In the explanatory note of the bill, which was filed on the last session day of Congress, the legislators noted that Sister Patricia Fox has served impoverished communities in the country over the past 27 years.

The bill was filed several days after the Philippines' Department of Justice granted a reprieve to the nun, who has been ordered to leave the country for alleged involvement in partisan political activities.

Sister Fox drew the ire of President Rodrigo Duterte after she joined a fact-finding mission that looked into reported human rights abuses in the southern Philippine region of Mindanao.

‘Instead of prosecuting and deporting [Sister Fox] ... the government should instead recognize and acknowledge her sacrifices in almost three decades of her selfless service,’ said the legislators.

They said that ‘by living with the poor and oppressed’ the nun has come to understand, experience and embrace ‘the culture and the struggle of the poor Filipino majority.’

‘Not only that she speaks their language, [the nun] was accepted by the Filipino communities and was treated as one of their own because she lives and struggles with them,’ they added.

Sister Fox told ucanews.com that she ‘felt privileged’ by the proposal put forward by the legislators, adding that she would accept it ‘if it will pass’ Congress.

‘It makes me feel very accepted here. I feel very honoured that they proposed such a thing,’ she told ucanews.com.

The proposal is, however, expected to face choppy seas in Congress, which is set to retire for its annual recess on 2 June.
Former ambassador Apolinario Lozada Jr., also a former member of the House of Representatives, said he doubts the bill will pass ‘knowing the composition of the House.’

The former legislator said most members of the Lower House were allies of Duterte.

Last month, the president accused the Australian nun of having a ‘shameful mouth’ and treating the Philippines like a ‘mattress to wipe your feet.’

The bill was filed by seven members of the House known as the ‘nationalist bloc’ for their advocacy of issues concerning farmers, workers, and tribal and urban poor communities.

Representative Emmi De Jesus of the women's party Gabriela, one of the proponents of the bill, said granting citizenship to Sister Fox would serve as due recognition of her service to the poor.

‘In 1990, [she] left her good life in Australia as a teacher and a lawyer and chose the Philippines as her missionary area to live with the poor,’ said the legislator.

The 71-year-old nun was supposed to leave the country on 25 May before the Justice Department interceded by asking the immigration bureau to comment on Sister Fox's petition to review her case.

The bureau arrested her on 16 April and detained her overnight. An order for her to leave the country was then issued.

Her missionary visa, which was due to expire on 5 September, was later revoked and her alien certificate of registration was ‘deactivated.’

Sister Fox, a Philippine superior of the international Catholic congregation Our Lady of Sion, arrived in the country in 1990.

She worked in the Prelature of Infanta and later became a coordinator of the Rural Missionaries of the Philippines.

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