Sister Fox stays: DOJ says immigration has no 'legal basis' to cancel visa

Ina Reformina, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Jun 18 2018 03:33 PM | Updated as of Jun 18 2018 10:28 PM

MANILA - (UPDATED) The Department of Justice (DOJ) has nullified the Bureau of Immigration’s order forfeiting the missionary visa of Australian nun Patricia Fox on technical grounds. 

Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra on Monday said the DOJ granted Fox’s motion for reconsideration on the BI ruling because what the bureau did in the case “is beyond what the law provides, that is why it has to be struck down.” 

“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,” Guevarra said in a statement.

Fox’s visa was forfeited by the bureau because of “her involvement in partisan political activities.” 

The BI cited her participation in rallies, press conferences, and fact-finding missions which are “not allowed under the terms and conditions of her visa.”

The DOJ resolution said, “This office cannot sanction BI’s resort to a visa forfeiture procedure, and [BI] orders against [Fox] which result therefrom. To hold otherwise will legitimize [BI’s] assertion of a power that does not exist in our laws.”

While Fox’s plea was granted, and her visa consequently still considered valid, the DOJ stressed it treats the case against her as one of visa cancellation, a procedure “among those allowee by law and the [BI] rules.”

Guevarra ordered the BI to hear the visa cancellation case along with a deportation case already commenced vs Fox. 

“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 DOJ to decide that matter now. For that reason, we are returning this case to the BI for its proper disposition,” Guevarra explained. 

The BI, in a statement Monday, said it will be reinstating Fox's visa and reactivating her ACR I-Card. 

She will also be allowed to stay in the country to continue her missionary work pending the result of the deportation charge against her.

Fox is facing a separate deportation charge for her alleged involvement in political activities, according to the bureau.

FILE PHOTO: Australian missionary Patricia Fox prays with devotees during a mass at the Mother of Perpetual Help Church in Paranaque, May 19, 2018. Romeo Ranoco, Reuters

WHAT WENT BEFORE

Fox was brought to the BI main office in Intramuros, Manila on April 16, detained for nearly 24 hours, and later charged. 

In her 24-page petition for review with the DOJ, Fox accused the BI of “grave abuse of discretion,” insisting that the forfeiture of her visa was “not in accord with the Constitution, the law and jurisprudence.” 

“The ground relied upon by the [BI] in cancelling the petitioner’s (Fox’s) visa was not among the grounds enumerated in the Rule 12, Section 4 of the [BI] Omnibus Rules of Procedure of 2015…; the visa of a foreigner sojourning in the Philippines may only be cancelled or downgraded [to Temporary Visitor’s Visa] based on the grounds provided for by law and/or administrative issuances,” the petition read.

The subject provision spells out the grounds for cancellation of visa namely, a. [t]he legal or factual basis for which the visa was issued no longer exists; b. [r]espondent acquired the visa through fraud, misrepresentation or concealment of a material fact. 

No less than President Duterte has publicly criticized Fox, who, as a foreigner, the president said has no right to “insult” the Philippine government. 

“You come here and insult us, you trample with our sovereignty. That will never happen,” said Duterte at an event in Camp Aguinaldo, Quezon City last April 18.