Updated at 4:05 p.m. ET on 2018-11-03
A 71-year-old Australian nun who had angered President Rodrigo Duterte for protesting his deadly war on drugs left the Philippines on Saturday after the government rejected her appeals to stay.
Sister Patricia Fox was sent off by throngs of supporters, including leaders of the Catholic church and at least one former official in Duterte’s cabinet. At times emotional, the soft-spoken nun nonetheless appealed for the president to have a change of heart and allow legal dissent.
“I wish for him to listen to the plight of the small people, not just the military and the business people,” Fox said when asked what she wished for Duterte, who ordered her deportation more than six months ago, signaling what observers say is a crackdown on legal dissent.
The nun had been staying in the Philippines for 27 years, and over the years had taken up the cause of those in the margins of society. But the president had ordered her visa revoked, as he bristled at a foreigner questioning his government’s policies.
Fox said she felt saddened, but insisted she was leaving under duress, not being deported.
“You can’t force a government to give you a visa,” she said, vowing to take her advocacy back to Melbourne, where she was expected to land Sunday morning.
After ordering her arrest and deportation Duterte had said that while freedom of expression was “unlimited,” it only applied to Filipinos and not to foreigners. Fox did not have the right to “insult us every time you open your mouth,” Duterte told reporters in May.
In a statement Saturday, Duterte's spokesman said that Fox's departure was "a timely reminder to all foreigners who stay or sojourn in this country that they are not entitled to all the rights and privileges granted to the citizens of the Philippines."
“Undeniable is the fact that Sister Fox joined protest rallies ... Her participation therefore violated the conditions of her stay, thereby mocking our laws, and abusing the hospitality extended to her by the host country," Salvador Panelo said.
"We thank her for whatever good deeds she has performed during her stay in the country. Such acts however cannot exempt her from the punishment imposed by law as a consequence of her wrongdoing,” he added.
Rights defenders had protested Duterte’s order to deport Fox, calling it a clear sign that the strongman president does not tolerate legal dissent. The government, through its immigration bureau and the foreign office, insisted that it had the right to kick out deemed undesirable.
In August, the immigration bureau detained an 84-year-old Australian professor and barred him entry into the country. The government had also recently deported an American and two African missionaries who had travelled to the south to check on alleged rights violations by the army against a local indigenous group.
Cristina Palabay, head of the local rights group Karapatan, said Fox’s departure underscored government contempt for human rights activism in the Philippines, which has a seen a rise in deaths attributed to the drug war since Duterte came to power two years ago.
About 5,000 alleged drug addicts and pushers have been killed since Duterte launched his anti-drug war two years ago, a spokesman for the government’s drug enforcement agency said last month.
“Only those who detest the poor would want a Sr. Patricia Fox out of the Philippines,” Palabay said.
“They thought that without her, the struggle for human rights and people’s rights will stop gaining allies in the international community. They are sorely mistaken.”