If Rodrigo Duterte felt no compunction cussing out the Pope, it is unlikely he’ll be suffering pangs of conscience over ordering the deportation of a 71-year-old Australian nun. Patricia Fox, a superior of the Notre Dame de Sion who has been living in the country for close to 30 years, found that neither her age nor her gender, and especially not her vocation, were going to protect her against the fury of the President. Personally, I do not think praying over this man is worth the saliva simply because I think—I may be wrong here—that he believes he is doing God’s work on earth. He is the man for the job, the man who was willing to do and willing to go where others where others weren’t. Apparently, he does not believe that souls ensnared by illegal drugs are worth saving, rather, the world is better off cleansed of them.
Sister Patricia committed the unpardonable by engaging in what Malacañang says are “partisan political activities.” These are simply not three words strung together to justify a deportation. They have, under election laws, a particular significance. The Omnibus Election Code defines “partisan political activity” as “an act designed to promote the election or defeat of a particular candidate or candidates to a public office.” It will include the act of forming organizations or groups to solicit votes or undertaking a campaign; holding caucuses, rallies parades or similar assemblies; making speeches announcements or commentaries; publishing or distributing campaign literature or materials; or directly or indirectly soliciting votes, pledges or support.
However, the law also makes clear that “public expressions or opinions or discussions of probable issues in a forthcoming election or on attributes of or criticisms against probable candidates proposed to be nominated in a forthcoming political party convention” are not
considered partisan political activity.
What exactly did Sister Patricia do? According to the Palace, she had sinned against our immigration laws by criticizing the administration during a rally in Davao, the President’s own backyard. It seems clear from the context of the law that partisan political activity relates to election activities. Sister Pat is a Catholic nun and she is in the country doing missionary work; she is not your ordinary tourist whose conduct is circumscribed by an Operations Order of the Bureau of Immigration, SBM-2015-025, section 1 of which states:
Foreign tourists in the Philippine are enjoined to observe the
limitation on the exercise of their political rights during their stay
in the Philippines. Foreign tourists are prohibited from engaging in
any political activity as defined by law and jurisprudence, such as
but not limited to, joining, supporting, contributing or involving
themselves in whatever manner in any rally, assembly or gathering,
whether for or against the government.
If anything, Sister Pat was exercising nothing more than a universal right. The issue is not as simple as free speech—it is something more, spiritual rather than temporal. Indeed, it can be argued that she was exercising her freedom of religion.
The free exercise of religion embraces two aspects. First, it protects the freedom of belief. We Catholics believe in one God that, inexplicably, is a Trinity. Muslims believe in Allah. I hasten to mention that the Christian God and the Muslim Allah are not the same—to create an equivalence between the two greatly oversimplifies the difference between these two great religions and creates more friction that it smoothens. Hinduism believes in a different pantheon
of gods whereas Buddhism is atheistic in the sense that it recognizes no one Supreme Being. The freedom to believe means that I may believe my shoe is a deity and the State cannot say otherwise.
Second, and more central to core beliefs, is the freedom to put into practice one’s religious beliefs. For Catholics, the Immaculate Conception is doctrinal and the Blessed Virgin Mary may be venerated through praying the rosary, a practice which other Christians will refuse to share. Islam has its five pillars, obligations which will include a pilgrimage to Mecca. These practices are essentially benign, but if, for example, one’s religion espouses the belief that a man may have more than one wife, if one tries to put that belief to practice here—excepting for Muslims—multiple marriages will not be allowed because of the Philippine law on bigamy, which declares such a felony. And this being Duterte country, if the observance of one’s religion entails the ingestion of hallucinogens, it is more than likely that one will meet one’s Maker sooner than one intended.
While she may have participated in rallies and even spoken in some, Sister Pat’s actions cannot be separated from her faith. Catholicism is more active now; it has progressed from the contemplative to the active, as indeed, the Gospels impose on all Catholics the duty to go out and preach the Good News. This is why religion so often goes against the State which, in self-defense erected a wall of separation between them.
Malacañang says that even with the confiscation of her missionary visa, Sister Pat may re-enter as a tourist. But, of course, all of us can see the trap that is being set for her.