IN the last four days, immigration officials intercepted two foreigners for what they described as illegal political activities.
Last Sunday, they barred Giacomo Filibeck, an official of the Party of European Socialists, at Mactan Airport and immediately deported him. He had been scheduled to address a conference of the party-list group Akbayan, whose speakers included lawmakers from the opposition. The next day, the immigration bureau’s office in the capital region arrested Sister Patricia Fox in Quezon City and held her overnight, after accusing her of violating her visa’s conditions. What were these two up to, to provoke such severe measures?
It turns out that Filibeck had joined a group that in October 2017 asked for an investigation on the thousands of killings that occurred in connection with the campaign against illegal drugs. Sister Fox, for her part, was accused of joining anti-government demonstrations. Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque, whom we remember as someone who used to be a human rights lawyer, justified both actions as an exercise of Philippine sovereignty.
It’s a strange position that this administration has taken, as far as sovereignty goes. It seems perfectly acceptable to bow before a foreign power like China—even professing love for its strongman ruler—never mind that China consistently refuses to recognize the Philippines’ sovereign rights over, say, the West Philippine Sea, which international law recognizes as part of our Exclusive Economic Zone. But political opinions, which harm no one and merely express an individual’s viewpoint, are such a large and immediate threat that their sources must be kept from our shores.
It didn’t matter to the immigration bureau that Sister Fox, as vouched by the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines, has worked for 27 years in the Philippines, helping farmers and indigenous people’s groups, and has a visa that’s valid until September 2018. It didn’t matter that under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, we have committed to uphold human rights, including freedom of thought and expression, political participation, and treatment by the judicial process.
What the immigration bureau has shown, in the tragicomic case of Filibeck and Fox, isn’t an exercise of sovereignty but an act of paranoia, even weakness. In their eagerness to please Malacañang, its officials have unfortunately reinforced the view that certain officials of this administration are simply incapable of listening to and respecting dissent, no matter how well-meaning and no matter how necessary.