REAL TALK: ASCENT Interviews Sr. Pat Fox on Her Continuing Advocacy for Filipino People’s Concerns in Australia

Australian missionary nun Sr. Patricia “Pat” Fox has been a development worker and human rights champion in the Philippines for 28 years before she was forced to go back to Australia on November 3 of last year. The Bureau of Immigration (BI) failed to renew her visa giving her no choice but to leave the Philippines.

Below, Sr. Pat answers questions most frequently asked of her by her Filipino friends, colleagues and co-workers.

ASCENT: What have you been doing in Australia as regards your advocacy for genuine agrarian reform and human rights?

Sr. Pat: Since coming to Australia, I have been invited to give a number of talks to different groups on the deteriorating human rights situation in the Philippines. These have included addressing an International Conference on Human Rights and National Conferences of different groups. I have spoken to many local groups including young and old, in schools, at the National University in Canberra, and in various churches. I have been surprised at the lack of knowledge of the broad population here, apart from a little on the drug killings. I am the spokesperson for the Asian Coalition for Human Rights in the Philippines and member of the Australian Coalition on Human Rights in the Philippines.

I am also the Human Rights officer for the Philippine Australia Solidarity Association. As part of that role, and apart from organizing some forums, we have lobbied among local and national politicians.  Our concern here and we have been focusing on with this lobbying is the continued presence of Australian military in the Philippines and the training of military here. People are shocked to know Gen. Jovito Palparan was a “beneficiary” of this training. We have organized petitions calling on the Australian Government to evaluate aid to the Philippines and stop military aid. We have also held solidarity actions responding to the calls from the indigenous peoples affected by Oceana Gold which has its headquarters here in Melbourne, and with the call to stop the killings in Negros. We also did some lobbying of Embassies here of those countries which have membership in the UN Human Rights Commission and we also plan to follow up the resolution to report on the killings in the Philippines.

ASCENT: What is your message to the Rural Missionaries of the Philippines (RMP) on its recent 50th founding anniversary? What are your best memories and lessons learned while at RMP? (Sr. Pat was RMP’s National Coordinator from 2001-2007.)

Sr. Pat: I congratulate the RMP on its 50 years of service to the rural poor and also Sr. Elsa Compuesto on her being elected the new National Coordinator. The RMP has been at the forefront of advocacy and development programs since its inception and has had its martyrs over the years. Yet, only now has there been such a concerted attack against the RMP as an organization and on its individual members. In an oppressive society this means it is obviously having an effect!  It is a further wake-up call from the RMP to the church that the issues of justice for the rural poor must be a constituent element of evangelization. I still remember my privileged moments as National Coordinator of getting to meet so many committed and courageous leaders and farmers, fisherfolks, and indigenous people. Through them I came to see that only genuine agrarian reform would solve their poverty. I learnt how to balance advocacy for their rights, with sustainable agricultural programs so that they also had food and could sustain their struggle. I learnt from the organizers that alternate structures which allow each person to take responsibility, rather than the top down model, is a way of practicing new politics. These dedicated leaders continue to be a challenge to me to this day with their untiring work for freedom, justice, peace and a decent life for themselves and their families, their communities and in the quest for genuine democracy for the country.

ASCENT: Many Executive Directors of people-oriented NGOs have been summarily killed including Atty. Benjamin Ramos of Paghidaet sa Kauswagan Development Group (PDG), Emerito Samarca of Alternative Learning Center for Agricultural and Livelihood Development (ALCADEV), Romeo Capalla of Panay Fair Trade Center (PFTC), and Willem Geertman of Alay Bayan Incorporated (ABI). Others have been illegally arrested and detained such as former RMP staff Rita Espinoza and Ben Quilloy. How can we continue to inspire development workers to continue with their tasks despite the very real threats to their life?

Sr. Pat: I remember the development workers who have been killed or unjustly imprisoned for their commitment to improving the lives of the poor. Theirs is a call to double our efforts as the repression of the people grows. The people’s spirit can never be killed and development workers offer alternatives which can improve the lives of the people despite the oppression. It is not easy to keep going when under threat but we know that it will not last, and that united and committed, each offering their skills, that there will be a new dawn. 

In Australia, we do not have the personal threats as there but there are many injustices particularly on refugees and migrants. Many migrants, including Filipinos, are exploited by employers because of their tenuous status. There are many issues there that we are working on.  Hopefully if we can make the government more responsible here it may take a stand in calling for a stop to the killings in the Philippines.#

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AscentPH is a national alliance of development organizations determinedly working for the empowerment of the people through poverty alleviation and promoting and defending the right to development and other fundamental human rights and freedoms.

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