Justice Secretary: BI committed jurisdictional error in Fox case

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, June 21) The Bureau of Immigration (BI) may have overstepped its authority when it forfeited the visa of Australian missionary Sister Patricia Fox, Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra said on Thursday.

"Yung pagkakamali [The mistake] is jurisdictional," Guevarra told CNN Philippines' The Source. "Under the rules of court, when we say it committed a jurisdictional error, it could mean that it exceeded its authority."

However, the secretary was quick to clarify that he was not implying the BI was acting abusively.

"The BI was acting in good faith... upon the honest belief na puwedeng gawin iyon [that it was allowed]," Guevarra added.

The Justice Department on Monday revoked a BI order to cancel Fox's missionary visa, saying it was "without legal basis."

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

Guevarra explained that the cancellation, not forfeiture, of visas was provided for in the law. Among the grounds for cancelling a visa are fraud and misrepresentation, which are not among the accusations against Fox.

"By and large, forfeiture is something non-existent as far as the law in concerned. It's something like a shortcut," said Guevarra.


BI 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 on Monday.

But the BI could be mistaken in what it qualifies as forfeiture, said Guevarra.

"Maybe in some instances they're actually doing cancellation, but [call] it forfeiture," he said.

He added that if the provisions on immigration law had been properly applied, Fox would have been given "a lot of opportunity" to defend herself.

The 71-year-old nun was propelled into the spotlight when she was arrested and detained last April for attending protest rallies. The BI said her participation violated the conditions of her stay, but her lawyers argue that fighting for the rights of minorities is part of her missionary work. Fox's camp also maintains the gatherings she attended were not anti-government in nature.

READ: Australian nun's camp: We'll go to Supreme Court if necessary

Her case was met with concern by the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines and the Commission on Human Rights.

But President Rodrigo Duterte himself admitted that he was behind the BI probe into Fox's "disorderly conduct."

READ: Duterte admits he ordered probe on Australian nun's 'disorderly conduct'

When asked whether Guevarra had informed the Office of the Executive Secretary of the decision to let Fox stay, he said there was no need to do so.

"The instruction for me is to follow the rule of law, and that's exactly what I did," said Guevarra.

In May, the President stressed that there was basis to deport the missionary. He cited BI Operations Order No. SBM 2015, which bars foreign tourists from engaging in political activities, "whether for or against the government."

READ: Duterte: There is basis for move to deport Australian nun


"Tinignan ko, 'yun ang ginamit ko sa madre [I looked at it, I used that against the nun]," Duterte said.

When asked about the President's sentiments regarding Fox, Guevarra said the process was not yet complete and he did not want to pre-empt it.

"We remanded it to the BI so the proper proceedings may be had," he said. "So as to the final outcome, we do not know that as yet."