Palace denies crackdown on foreign critics of Duterte admin

There is no crackdown of foreigners who were critical of the administration of President Rodrigo Duterte Malacañang said, as it justified the recent detention of 71-year-old Australian Catholic missionary Patricia Fox.

Speaking to reporters on Thursday, April 19, Palace Spokesperson Harry Roque Jr. stressed that the law banning foreigners from participating in political activities in the Philippines also applies to supporters of the administration.

“Our law is clear: those in the Philippines are here because of our consent for them to be here, but they are not allowed to engage in any political activity,” Roque said. “There’s no crackdown. It’s really the law. The law may be harsh, but such is the law.” 

Fox, who has been living in the Philippines for 27 years as a missionary and as an advocate of farmers’ rights, was arrested by Bureau of Immigration (BI) officers on Monday, April 16, at her home in Quezon City for alleged “illegal political activities” in the country.

She was released the following day. In a television interview, she has denied participating in party politics.

Operations Order SBM-2015-025 states that “foreign tourists are prohibited from engaging in any political activity as defined by law and jurisprudence such as joining, supporting, contributing or involving themselves in a rally, assembly, gathering, whether for or against the government.”

BI said Fox was released for further investigation “after it was established that the Australian nun holds a valid missionary visa and, thus…is a properly documented alien.”

The following Wednesday, Duterte owned up for the “wrongful” arrest of the missionary nun but clarified that his original order was only to investigate Fox.

I ordered her to be investigated—not deported at once, not arrested—for disorderly conduct,” the president said. “I take full responsibility, legal and otherwise, for this incident.”

He warned, however, that he will order her arrest if she “begin to malign, defame government in any of those rallies there, I will order your arrest.”

Following Duterte’s statement, Roque said that apologies may be in order over the arrest of Fox.

“It seems that there was a mistake in the case of Sister Fox and maybe apologies are in order because she was immediately released by CID (Commission on Immigration and Deportation, an old name for the BI). CID also commits mistakes,” Roque said.

The Palace official later clarified that his statement does not contradict Duterte’s.

“There’s no difference. I said my statement early in the morning on the basis of the cardinal statement that the reason why the nun was released because she was not a subject of summary deportation because she was not caught in flagrante delicto,” he explained.

He continued: “Since the process now is first a preliminary investigation to determine if she should be subjected to deportation proceedings, in my mind there was something wrong. That’s why I said apologies may be in order.”

The Commission on Human Rights (CHR), meanwhile, warned that the arrest of the Australian missionary sets a “dangerous precedent” for human right workers.

The CHR urged the government to not repeat such action which “impacts basic rights and erodes dignity of those affected.”

“Framing their work as ‘interference’ without concrete basis may discourage foreign nationals from doing important missionary and humanitarian work in our country,” CHR said in a statement. 

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