Sister Fox can stay in PH for now: DOJ grants Australian nun's plea vs Immigration leave order

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, June 18) — The Department of Justice has allowed Australian nun Sister Patricia Fox to stay in the country after it revoked the order of the Bureau of Immigration (BI) to cancel her missionary visa.

Acting on Fox's appeal, DOJ on Monday said it has nullified the order of BI to forfeit her missionary visa and its order for her to leave the country by end of May for the Immigration's decision was "without legal basis."

Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra said the Bureau of Immigration does not have the power to forfeit visas.

"What BI did in this case is beyond what the law provides, that is why it has to be struck down," he said in a statement.

Instead of visa forfeiture, Guevarra said the proper procedure in this case should have been one for visa cancellation. He directed the BI to determine whether there was enough evidence against Fox that would warrant the cancellation of her visa. The DOJ secretary also directed the BI to hear the deportation case already pending against Fox.

"We are returning this case to the BI for its proper disposition... 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," DOJ said.

In a series of text messages to CNN Philippines, Guevarra said the BI explained why they forfeited Fox's visa in its pleadings.

He added the BI argued "that the power to 'forfeit' a visa is implied in its given powers." Guevarra said, however, this was not an abuse of power but a "mere jurisdictional error."

Immigration bureau spokesperson Dana Sandoval said while the agency will follow the Justice department's orders, it regularly does visa forfeitures.

"Visa forfeiture is a regular process, but it is not written in the omnibus rules so the DOJ found out that we have to follow what is written on the omnibus rules," Sandoval told CNN Philippines' News Night.

"Basically, we have to send notice to the aggrieved party and we have to require them to submit their counter-affidavit before we hear their visa cancellation case," she added.

Fox's lawyer Jobert Pahilga, meanwhile, said their camp welcomes the DOJ order. He said, however they are worried the BI might not renew the Australian nun's visa once it expires on September.

He also maintained Fox did not violate any laws, as her participation in assemblies are "part and parcel of her apostolate and missionary work."

"Her participation in such gatherings or assemblies is an exercise of her right to freedom of expression and assembly, and even if she is a foreigner, she is entitled and guaranteed by the Constitution such right," Pahilga said.

Pahilga also said they received an order from the Immigration bureau's Board of Special Inquiry informing their camp that the agency is proceeding with the hearing of Fox's deportation case. They are then given 15 days to file a memorandum on the case.

Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque said they respect the resolution issued by Guevarra.

On April 23, the bureau ordered the 71-year-old nun's missionary visa forfeited. It was set to expire on September 5, 2018. The order included her deportation by the end of May. On May 30, BI denied her appeal, paving the way for her mandated exit from the country.

But the camp of Fox asked DOJ to reinstate her missionary visa and let her stay in the country.

BI on April 16 arrested and detained Fox for "attending protest rallies and engaging in political activities." It said her participation in the protests violated the conditions of her stay in the country.

President Rodrigo Duterte admitted on April 18 that he ordered the probe on Fox, which led to her temporary detention for questioning.

CNN Philippines correspondent AC Nicholls contributed to this report.