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Is a nun a threat? Senators question ‘crackdown’ on foreign activists

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By Xave Gregorio

At least two senators are questioning the Bureau of Immigration’s “crackdown” against foreign activists, following the arrests of a European Union Socialist Party official and a 71-year-old nun.

“Apparently, the Bureau of Immigration (BI) used excessive authority in connection with the arrest of Sister Patricia, and has acted on a mistaken perception plucked from an imaginary threat,” Senator Nancy Binay said. “Ang tanong eh ‘How can a 71-year old nun be a threat to society?’”

Binay was referring to Sister Patricia Fox, an Australian human rights activist who authorities arrested for supposedly participating in political activities.

Press statements from some members of the militant Makabayan bloc in the lower house identified Fox as a participant to an international fact-finding and solidarity mission on alleged rights abuses in Mindanao.

Fox, a holder of a missionary passport, has been living in the Philippines as a lay missionary for close to three decades and has been active in other fact-finding missions.

The nun, who admittedly participated in a Women’s Day rally in March, has previously been detained in 2013 under the Aquino administration for participating in protests in Hacienda Luisita.

But Binay said there is nothing wrong with helping marginalized people.

“Paano naging krimen ang pagtulong sa kapwa? What threat does preaching the Word of God pose to society?” she said.

“Siguro ang kailangan pagtuunan ng pansin ng BI eh ‘yung mga illegal aliens na nagpapasok ng droga, ‘yung mga involved sa human smuggling at child pornography at ‘yung nasa terror list ng [Armed Forces of the Philippines].”

Liberal Party President and Senator Kiko Pangilinan said Fox’s arrest, which came in the heels of the deportation of EU Socialist Party official Giacomo Filibeck, is an emerging “crackdown against foreign activists.”

Filibeck was barred from attending the an event by opposition Akbayan Party and was subsequently deported for supposedly engaging in political activities.

“[This] 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 in a statement.

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

But Senate President Koko Pimentel said a law in the Philippines prohibits foreigners from meddling with domestic affairs.

“If we want Filipinos to follow our laws then we should show our own people that foreigners are not above our laws!” Pimentel said in a text message.

“These foreigners who come here should not feel that they are ‘superior’ to us and hence above our laws! ALL SHOULD FOLLOW THE LAW!” he said.

Section 11(a) of Batas Pambansa 39 or the Foreign Agents Act of 1979 prohibits foreign agents from giving government agencies and officials political propaganda.

“Also election code has that principle of law,” Pimentel told Politiko.

The BI said Fox and Filibeck allegedly violated Immigrations Operations Order No. SBM-2015-025 SBM-2015 which prohibits foreign tourists from engaging in any political activity, which includes “joining, supporting, contributing or involving themselves in whatever manner in any rally, assembly, gathering, whether for or against the government.”