Sister Fox moves to avoid arrest once visa expires

MANILA, Philippines – Australian nun Sister Patricia Fox made last-ditch moves to avoid arrest as an overstaying alien once her missionary visa expires on Wednesday, September 5.

Fox went to the Bureau of Immigration (BI) on Monday morning, September 3, as she considered applying for a tourist visa, only for the BI to tell her there is no need for this.

Later on Monday, she went to the Department of Justice (DOJ) to seek dialogue with Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra, but Guevarra declined her request because a party to a case is "not supposed to talk to the judge." She also challenged the deportation order against her.

Fox is the 71-year-old nun whom the BI ordered deported for allegedly engaging in political activities, a charge that Fox denies. 

President Rodrigo Duterte himself had ordered Fox investigated. 

If Fox is deported, she will be the 4th foreign missionary forced to leave the Philippines under the iron-fisted Duterte. The first 3 deported foreign missionaries were Methodists, also accused of engaging in political activities. 

Visa expiry problem

With or without a deportation order, however, Fox's missionary visa, which was issued on July 21, 2016, is scheduled to expire on Wednesday.  Her camp fears that by then, authorities will arrest her for being an overstaying alien. 

This was why on August 20, Fox applied to renew her missionary visa, said her lawyer Jobert Pahilga. The BI has not acted on this application of hers.

While waiting for the BI to act on this application, Fox on Monday went to the BI in Intramuros, Manila, as she thought of applying for a tourist visa. 

Fox shelved this plan, said Pahilga, after the BI legal department advised them there is no need for this.

Pahilga said the purpose of applying for a tourist visa "was to allow her to stay here for 30 days."

The BI legal department, however, said there is no need to apply for a tourist visa "because there is a pending application for renewal of her missionary visa, and in case it's denied, it will automatically be downgraded to tourist visa," said Pahilga. 

Fearing arrest

On Fox's application to renew her missionary visa, Pahilga said her application "was referred to the BI legal department, and until now there is no recommendation yet."

"But we requested the BI to accept the payment of the filing fee for the application so that she can stay for 60 days in the Philippines and cannot be considered an overstaying alien due to the expiration of her visa," Fox's lawyer said.

"We fear that the BI would order her arrest not because of the deportation order as we have timely filed an appeal but due to the expiration of her visa," he added.

Pahilga said Fox's camp hopes the BI will not have her arrested because they filed an application for visa renewal last August 20. 

In a text message to Rappler, BI spokesperson Dana Sandoval said, "Technically, she can be charged as an overstaying alien once her visa expires, but she can voluntarily present herself to the office and downgrade her stay to the get the 59-day temporary visitor's visa." 

Fox argues that she joins rallies and gatherings of the marginalized as "part and parcel of my apostolate and missionary work."

She also says the BI "prejudged" her case when it ordered her deportation by citing Duterte's "false and unfounded" statements against her. – Rappler.com

Paterno R. Esmaquel II

Paterno R. Esmaquel II is a senior reporter leading Rappler’s coverage of religion and foreign affairs. He finished MA Journalism in Ateneo and MSc Asian Studies (Religions in Plural Societies) at RSIS, Singapore. For story ideas or feedback, email him at pat.esmaquel@rappler.com.

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