Sister Patricia Fox challenges deportation order at DOJ

MANILA, Philippines – Australian missionary nun Patricia Fox filed on Monday, September 3, a petition for review at the Department of Justice (DOJ) asking for a reversal of the deportation order against her by the Bureau of Immigration (BI).

The BI is under the DOJ.

Fox personally went to the DOJ on Monday afternoon to seek a dialogue with Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra.

Lawyer Kathy Panguban said they sent a letter requesting for a dialogue on Monday morning. Asked if it were approved, Panguban said, "As far as we know."

The dialogue, however, did not take place.

Guevarra, who gave Fox reprieve once before, said a dialogue would be improper. He also said he has not seen the letter.

"Fox's counsel ought to know that. If you have a case, you're not supposed to talk to the judge. Everything should be in the pleadings, with notice to the adverse party," the justice chief told Rappler.

Guevarra earlier said Fox can elevate the case to the court, whatever the result of her DOJ petition will be.

What is Fox's petition? There are two things going against Fox at this point: 1) The BI has ordered her deportation 2) Her missionary visa is expiring on September 6.

Fox will apply for a renewal of her visa, which the BI has 60 days to process, effectively giving her a fresh grace period to stay in the Philippines.

The nun is challenging the deportation order at the DOJ. In her 39-page petition, Fox said the BI did not thresh out the merits of her case but instead relied solely on the statement of President Rodrigo Duterte against her.

Fox caught the ire of Duterte for participating in rallies. The BI has a circular that bars foreigners from participating in political activities.

Essentially, Fox is asking Guevarra to look at her case and her activities as no more than a practice of her constitutional and internationally guaranteed rights to freedom of expression and freedom of religion.

She said the activities are consistent with the work of her congregation, which was the reason why her missionary visa was granted in the first place.

"The order of the BI, if not reversed and set aside, would curtail the acts of the petitioner which were done pursuant to her religious belief and aspiration. And that would unduly give the said office the right to define what a religious missionary like herein petitioner can do or cannot do, or ought to do and not to do," the petition states.

The petition does not ask Guevarra to nullify the BI circular prohibiting foreigners to engage in political activities.

Guevarra said he is also not in the position to "set the circular aside just like that."

"If that BI circular was rooted onto a statutory provision, I cannot set it aside just like that because it becomes part of the law. if it's not so rooted, it becomes a major policy decision that may involve other government agencies, including the President himself," Guevarra said.

Panguban said they can raise that issue if they are forced to go to the Supreme Court.

Fox will be a test case for the country's immigration laws, and just how far the country's civil rights can extend to foreigners. –

Lian Buan

Lian Buan covers justice and corruption for Rappler. She is interested in decisions, pleadings, audits, contracts, and other documents that establish a trail. If you have leads, email or tweet @lianbuan.