DOJ: Australian nun Patricia Fox can stay in PH for now

MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) – Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra saves the day for embattled Australian nun Patricia Fox, at least for now.

In a resolution issued on Monday, June 18, Guevarra nullified previous Bureau of Immigration (BI) orders that forfeited Fox's missionary visa. Guevarra, in effect, granted Fox's petition.

But the scope of the decision is narrow. Guevarra left open the possibility of visa cancellation.

Why is it narrow? It was the visa forfeiture that Guevarra voided. 

The BI forfeited Fox's visa because the Australian nun was allegedly "too political," which goes against a 2015 bureau circular that "enjoins foreign tourists in the Philippines to observe the limitation on the exercise of their political rights during their stay in the Philippines."

Fox had said that the constitutional guarantees to freedom of speech and assembly also apply to her as a foreigner.

She also insisted that photos of her purportedly at protests cannot be considered sufficient evidence to forfeit her visa. (READ: Sister Patricia Fox hits BI's definition of 'missionary work')

Guevarra said immigration laws do not empower the BI to forfeit visas.

"Just because visa is a privilege does not mean that it can be withdrawn without legal basis. The BI cannot simply create new procedures or new grounds to withdraw a visa already granted to a foreigner," he said.

But what the BI can do is cancel Fox's visa.

Guevarra "ordered the BI to ascertain whether the charge and the evidence against Fox make out a case for visa cancellation, for which specific grounds are stated in the law."

"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. It would therefore be premature for us at the Department of Justice (DOJ) to decide that matter now," Guevarra said.

In reaction to Guevarra's decision, Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque said on Monday, "We respect that resolution by the DOJ secretary."

What's next? The case has now been brought back to the BI "for proper disposition."

There is a pending deportation complaint against Fox at the BI. Guevarra ordered the bureau, an attached agency of the DOJ, to hear both the visa cancellation and deportation cases.

"Until a final resolution of the visa cancellation and/or deportation proceedings is reached, or until the expiration of her missionary visa, whichever comes first, Sister Fox may continue to perform her duties as a missionary in the Philippines," Guevarra said.

Fox's missionary visa will expire on September 5. (READ: Sister Patricia Fox: 'Whatever happens, I will be forever grateful')

Guevarra previously extended Fox's stay in the Philippines after applying a different day count. If it were up to the BI, Fox should have left the country as early as May 25.

Fox has been living in the Philippines for 27 years. She drew the ire of President Rodrigo Duterte, who had her investigated. (READ: Makabayan lawmakers seek Filipino citizenship for Sister Patricia Fox– Rappler.com

Lian Buan

Lian Buan covers justice and corruption for Rappler. She is interested in decisions, pleadings, audits, contracts, and other documents that establish a trail. If you have leads, email lian.buan@rappler.com or tweet @lianbuan.

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