Department of Justice says authorities erred in cancelling missionary visa, but 71-year-old could still be deported over separate case
There were tears of relief and joy at Sister Patricia Fox’s modest home in Quezon City, the Philippines, after it was announced her appeal against the withdrawal of her missionary visa had been successful.
But the 71-year-old Australian nun remains under threat of deportation under a separate action that is still before the authorities and pending a decision.
Late on Monday the Department of Justice announced that the Bureau of Immigration had erred in cancelling Fox’s missionary visa on the grounds of her political activism.
Fox’s visa is now valid until September, when it expires. She plans to apply for a renewal.
The decision came as a shock to Fox and her lawyers, who earlier in the day were making plans for the opposite result.
Fox said she was immensely relieved and “I nearly burst into tears. My fellow sisters are laughing and crying.” She said she would now unpack the bag that she has had awaiting a variety of possibilities, including jailing, deportation or “going to ground”.
The secretary of the Department of Justice, Menardo Guevarra, earlier told the local Inquirer newspaper that the decision on Fox would be made on its merits, and that President Rodrigo Duterte had personally assured him that he would not interfere. He also said he had not sought guidance from the president.
Fox’s lawyer, Jobart Pahliga, said that the decision was a “huge” victory not only for Fox but for the rule of law in the Philippines. He said the legal team was not yet dropping its guard, but was now optimistic that Fox would be able to stay at least until September.
“We had assumed that because the president had acted against her that the Department would just go along with his whims,” he said.
He said that the decision would also affect another 15 similar cases where the Bureau of Immigration had withdrawn visas from foreign nationals because of political activism. Most of those people had already been deported.
“Without the outpouring of international support for Sister Fox none of this would have happened.”
Before the decision, Pahliga said he had advised Fox not to go into hiding but instead to appear as prominently as possible in public. This morning she was addressing an ecumenical conference of bishops in central Manila.
This evening she plans to attend a memorial service for Father Richmond Nilo, who was gunned down in front of his congregation eight days ago in a chapel in Zaragosa, in the province of Nueva Ecija, while preparing for mass. Nilo was the third priest to be killed in six months in the escalating tide of gun violence in the Philippines.
Fox, who has been a missionary in the Philippines for 28 years, was arrested on the personal order of Duterte on 16 April and threatened with deportation, following her participation in a human rights fact-finding mission in the southern island of Mindanao earlier that month.
Later, her missionary visa was cancelled by the Bureau of Immigration. It is this latter decision that has now been overturned. The deportation order has also been appealed, but no decision has been made.
Pahliga said it was not out of the question that Fox might be deported, but that if the government understood its own rules, this should not happen while there was an active appeal, and he now thought it unlikely.
“If they do deport her, where is the rule of law in the Philippines today?” he said.
Mindanao has been placed under martial law by Duterte on the grounds of terrorist threats from Islamic State sympathisers and the New People’s Army, the armed wing of the Communist Party.
The fact-finding mission of which Sister Fox was part reported stories of extra-judicial killings of farmers, the violent breakup of unionism at the Coca Cola factory in Davao, and that Indigenous people and local peasants were being forced from their land to make way for mines and palm oil and banana plantations.
The mission also heard that peasants were being forced into false confessions that they were members of the New People’s Army.
Meanwhile the Catholic bishops’ conference of the Philippines this morning announced that it would not support allowing priests to carry guns in the wake of the recent shootings of priests
Archbishop Romulo Valles said that arming priests was contrary to the teachings of Jesus to shun violence and “turn the other cheek”.
Four days before Nilo was killed, Father Rey Urmenata was shot and wounded in Calamb City, Laguna province. In April Father Mark Ventura, known for his advocacy against mining, was gunned down and killed in Cagayan province. In December last year Father Marcelito Paez was shot dead in Jaen town, Nueva Ecija, after helping with the release of a political prisoner.
The Catholic bishops also released a statement regarding the killing last year of three teenagers in the so-called “war on drugs”.
These cases, three among many, have caught the public’s imagination partly because of the youth of the victims, and partly because in one case CCTV footage and eyewitness statements contradicted the police version of events.
Police claimed that Kian Loyd Delos Santos, 17, of Caloocan City, shot at them and was killed in self defence in August last year during a drug raid, but witnesses have claimed they saw police detain and restrain him, drag him in to a laneway and shoot him in the head.
Two other Caloocan City teenagers, Carl Angelo Arnaiz, 19, and Reynaldo de Guzman, 14, were discovered dead within weeks of Delos Santos’s killing.
The Catholic Bishops’ Conference released said in a statement “we are appalled by the remorselessness by which even the young are executed … The relentless and bloody campaign against drugs, that shows no sign of abating, impels your bishops to declare: ‘in the name of God stop the killings’.”
@MargaretSimons, 18/06/2018 - The Guardian