Justice secretary welcomes questions over right of foreigners to protest

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Justice secretary welcomes questions over right of foreigners to protest
Sister Patricia Fox, who was detained last week for allegedly joining political rallies.

The Department of Justice welcomes the plan of a lawyers’ group to question the Bureau of Immigration’s prohibition on foreigners joining rallies.

New Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra made the comment after the National Union of People’s Lawyers (NUPL) said it would file a case questioning the restriction outlined in a 2015 order.

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“The DOJ welcomes any legal action questioning the state’s sovereign right to restrict the participation of aliens in domestic political activities and internal affairs of our country,” Guevarra said.

In a statement on Saturday (April 21), the NUPL said it believed that the BI’s Operation Order no. SBM-2015-025, “which prohibits foreigners from joining, supporting, contributing or involving themselves in whatever manner in any rally, assembly, or gathering whether for or against the government”, was unconstitutional.

The NUPL issued this statement after immigration authorities detained 71-year-old Australian nun Patricia Anne Fox in her home in Quezon City last week.

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The nun was arrested Monday and was detained at the BI office in Manila, where she stayed overnight.

She was ordered released on Tuesday after the BI established that she held a valid missionary visa and was a properly documented alien.

Sister Patricia was apprehended following reports that she violated the conditions of her stay by engaging in political activities and anti-government demonstrations.

The nun, who has lived in the country for 27 years, has made human rights and helping peasants her advocacies.

On Thursday, the Malacañang stressed that foreigners are prohibited by law to engage in any political activity in the country.

Presidential spokesman Harry Roque mentioned this prohibition in relation to President Duterte’s order to conduct an investigation into Sister Patricia.

Roque said the Australian is now under preliminary investigation, which would determine if she should be subjected to deportation proceedings.

The palace official further stated that the president’s directive for the BI to probe Sister Patricia was in accordance with the country’s law disallowing foreign nationals to participate in any political activity in the Philippines.

“The law is clear,” he said. “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.” 

Sister Patricia was previously detained by immigration authorities in 2013 for participating in a farmers’ protest in Hacienda Luisita, Roque added.

He also said that there was no crackdown on foreigners who were critical of the Duterte administration.

This is not the first time a foreign national was detained in the country over similar issues, he stressed.

In 2013, authorities arrested a Dutch activist who was caught in photos taunting a crying policeman during a protest against President Benigno Aquino III’s State of the Nation Address.

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