Australian nun Sr. Patricia Fox will remain in the country as the Department of Justice (DOJ) granted her appeal to reverse the Bureau of Immigration’s decision forfeiting her visa and ordering her to leave the country.
In a statement Monday, Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra granted Fox’s motion for reconsideration, saying that the BI’s forfeiture of the 71-year-old missionary’s visa has no legal basis.
“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,” Guevarra said.
In her petition for review filed last May 25 by her legal counsels from the National Union of People’s Lawyers (NUPL), Fox asked the DOJ to overturn the BI’s leave order on May 17 forfeiting her missionary visa due to allegations of violating the conditions of her stay and gave her a temporary visitor’s visa lasting only 30 days.
The NUPL reiterated Fox’s position that “there is no factual basis for the downgrading of petitioner’s missionary visa into a temporary visitor’s visa.”
“The allegation that she violated the terms and conditions (of her visa) is misplaced and unfounded. In the case of the petitioner, there is no mention in the report of the intelligence agents of the BI and even in its assailed order that petitioner’s presence or activities disturbed the peace and order of the country,” Fox said.
While Fox’s counsels agreed with the BI’s position that a visa is a privilege and not a right given to foreigners, they pointed out “once it is granted by the State, it cannot be revoked except on valid and lawful ground and upon observance of due process of law, both substantive and procedural.”
Guevarra explained that while Philippine Immigration laws give the BI broad powers in regulating the entry and stay of aliens in the country, visa forfeiture is not among those powers.
“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,” Guevarra added.
While Guevarra agreed with the BI that visa is a privilege, he, however, said “it does not mean that it can be withdrawn without legal basis.”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 added.
He said to tolerate BI’s actions is to “legitimize assertion of a power that does not exist in our laws,” Guevarra said.
Guevarra said while the missionary visa is valid and subsisting, the case against her will be treated as one for visa cancellation, a procedure that is allowed by law and 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.
Meanwhile, he said Fox may proceed with her missionary work in the Philippines.
“Until a final resolution of the visa cancellation andor 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.
In its order, the BI dismissed Fox’s arguments that the bureau forfeited her visa without due process and that allegations that she engaged in political activities were not backed with solid evidence.
It reiterated that Fox acted beyond allowed activities under her visa by working outside Barangay Amihan in Quezon City, where she claimed she would render her missionary work when she applied for her visa.
The order likewise stressed that the strict rules on evidence do not apply to immigration cases, which are administrative proceedings requiring only the lowest quantum of evidence.
On April 16, Fox was apprehended by BI operatives pursuant to a mission order issued by Commissioner Jaime Morente for violating the conditions of her stay in the country by engaging in political activities and anti-government demonstrations.
Malacañang, for its part, said that it respects the DOJ resolution.
“We respect that resolution by the DOJ secretary,” Presidential spokesperson Harry Roque said in a message sent to reporters. (Christopher Lloyd Caliwan with reports from Azer Parrocha and Rachel Bañares (OJT)/Philippine News Agency)