DOJ lets Sister Patricia Fox keep missionary visa

Photo by Michael Varcas

By Edu Punay/The Philippine Star – She gets to stay in the Philippines after all… for now.

Australian nun Patricia Fox, whose condemnation of human rights abuses had angered President Duterte and led to her day-long detention two months ago, may continue her missionary work in the country, based on an order issued by the Department of Justice (DOJ).

In a resolution, the DOJ yesterday voided the order of the Bureau of Immigration (BI) in April revoking the 71-year-old nun’s missionary visa and ordering her to leave the country within 30 days. But the aging missionary would still have to deal with a separate deportation case against her in the BI.

Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra granted the petition for review filed by Fox earlier this month questioning the BI order that became final on May 17.

Informed of the development, Fox said she felt “surprised” but “very happy” about being allowed to continue her missionary work in the country.

The DOJ chief held that BI’s forfeiture of the nun’s visa for supposed violation of the terms and conditions by her joining protest rallies was “without legal basis” simply because the bureau does not have any power to do so.

“Our existing immigration laws outline what the BI can do to foreigners and their papers – including visas – when they commit certain acts within Philippine territory. What the BI did in this case is beyond what the law provides, that is why it has to be struck down,” read the ruling.

“This Office cannot sanction BI’s resort to a visa forfeiture procedure, and Orders against (Fox) which result therefore. To hold otherwise will legitimize (BI’s) assertion of a power that does not exist in our laws,” it stressed.

Guevarra explained that while the BI was correct in saying that a visa is a privilege, it does not mean it could be forfeited without legal basis.

“The BI cannot simply create new procedures or new grounds to withdraw a visa already granted to a foreigner,” he pointed out.
The DOJ chief made the ruling as he differentiated visa forfeiture from visa cancellation, the latter being the more appropriate proceeding for the nun’s case.

“There are specific grounds for visa cancellation, such as fraud or misrepresentation. The BI adopted a procedure styled as forfeiture that did not address any of these grounds at all,” he explained in a text message.

He said the bureau, which is under the administrative supervision of the DOJ, erred in revoking the nun’s visa and separately process a deportation case against her.

“The BI treated this as a case for visa forfeiture instead of one for visa cancellation. As a result, the bureau has yet to decide whether the supposed actions of Fox do indeed justify the cancellation of her visa,” he said.

With this, Guevarra said the BI should instead resolve the deportation case against Fox and decide whether or not to cancel her visa.

The DOJ chief directed the BI to now hear the visa cancellation and deportation case against Fox.

He said that until the BI rules on the pending case or until her visa expires, Fox may continue to perform her duties as a missionary in the country.

This means the victory in the nun’s bid to stay in the country is still temporary because of the possibility that the BI could order her deportation to Australia.

BI agents arrested Fox, an advocate of land reform, last April 16 for allegedly joining protest rallies against the government. She was released the following day for further investigation.

The government cited a photo taken last April 9 showing Fox speaking at a rally organized by the Kilusang Mayo Uno and Gabriela party-list outside the local Coca-Cola factory in Davao City, Duterte’s hometown where he served as mayor for more than two decades.

It was not the first time that Fox was taken into custody for political activities in the country. In 2013, she was detained for speaking at a rally in Hacienda Luisita in Tarlac.

Mass for slain priests

Hours after the release of the DOJ resolution, Fox joined the solidarity mass at the Quiapo Church for priests killed by gunmen recently. The mass came on the ninth day after the death of Fr. Richmond Nilo in Nueva Ecija.

She said that she joined the indignation rally to appeal to “stop the killing of priests because these killings degrade the dignity and the value of life.”

She also vowed to continue her missionary work, saying she is not violating the law.

The provincial superior of the Notre Dame de Sion admitted she is still worried about a separate deportation case against her at the BI.

Fox has served as a missionary in the Philippines for 27 years. Her missionary visa will expire in September.

“We do not know what will happen there,” she said, referring to the deportation case. “We will just have to wait and see what happens, whether that affects the deportation case also because that is separate from the visa issue.”

Fox’s lawyer Sol Taule said they are “hoping that the decision of the DOJ would affect the deportation proceedings at the BI since clearly it was said that there is no legal basis” in cancelling her visa.

The bureau, she pointed out, used “the same ground in the cancellation of Sister Pat’s visa and in the deportation case. So we are hopeful that the BI would resolve the deportation case in our favor.”

She added that in the DOJ resolution, there were no restrictions imposed on Fox.

Taule said the DOJ ruling could have an effect on the other foreign missionaries in the Philippines. “The BI could no longer just cancel the visa of a foreigner,” she said, citing they are entitled to due process.

Fox’s camp expressed gratitude to Guevarra as well as to others who openly defended her innocence and her right to stay in the country.

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