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Australian nun not off hook yet in Manila

Philippine Justice Department orders Sister Patricia Fox's missionary visa be restored, but deportation case still looms

Jose Torres Jr. and Mark Saludes, Manila

Jose Torres Jr. and Mark Saludes, Manila

Published: June 19, 2018 09:14 AM GMT

Updated: June 19, 2018 09:20 AM GMT

Australian nun not off hook yet in Manila

Australian missionary nun Patricia Fox joins a gathering in Manila on June 18 to protest the killing of several Catholic priests in recent months. She got a reprieve from being forced to leave the country this week after the Justice Department nullified an order forfeiting her missionary visa. (Photo by Jire Carreon)

An Australian missionary nun ordered by Philippine authorities to leave the country, is still in danger of being booted out despite winning a reprieve from the Justice Department this week, according to a top government official.

The Philippines' Department of Justice decided that Sister Patricia Fox, who has been working in the country for 27 years, should get her missionary visa back after it was declared forfeit by immigration authorities.

The department declared the forfeiture of the nun's visa by the Immigration Bureau "null and void” on June 18 because there was no legal basis to declare it forfeit. 

It added that Sister Fox "may continue to perform her duties as a missionary" until her visa expires in September or "until a final resolution" in her deportation proceedings is reached.

A spokesman for President Rodrigo Duterte, said the 71-year-old nun is "not yet off the hook" and still has to face the deportation case.

The Australian missionary nun was arrested on April 16 and detained overnight before an order to leave the country was issued.

The Immigration Bureau later revoked Sister Fox's missionary visa on April 23 for allegedly participating in "partisan political activities."

The bureau also "deactivated" the nun's alien certificate of registration.

Presidential spokesman Harry Roque said the Justice Department only upheld the validity of Sister Fox's visa "without prejudice to the deportation proceedings."

"The issue in the deportation proceedings is, was she involved in political activities?" said Roque.

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Duterte has publicly criticized Sister Fox, who he said had no right to "insult" the Philippine government as a foreigner staying in the country. 


Missionary work continues

"I will continue [working as a missionary] because that's the expression of my mission," Sister Fox told reporters at a gathering in Manila hours after the Justice Department made its decision.

She said her work with poor communities is "the mandate of the church." 

"That's the teaching of the church, to do missionary work. I'm not doing anything wrong anyway," she said, adding that she "nearly burst into tears" when she heard the news.

Sister Fox said the Justice Department decision "came as a shock" because she had been "preparing for the worst." 

The nun said she would apply to renew her missionary visa before it expires in September.

The Australian nun, a regional superior of the international Catholic congregation Sisters of Our Lady of Sion, was branded an "undesirable alien" following her participation in an international fact-finding mission to look into alleged human rights abuses in Mindanao in April.


Support from church leaders

Catholic and Protestant church leaders welcomed the Justice Department order as "a sign of hope for the rule of law."

Manila Auxiliary Bishop Broderick Pabillo said although it was a "positive development ... threats against Sister Fox still exist." 

The prelate said the deportation case should be dropped immediately and she be allowed to do her work "without conditions."

Bishop Reuel Norman Marigza of the United Church of Christ in the Philippines said missionaries "should not be treated as criminals" because they follow the footsteps of Jesus.

"We thanked God for the ruling," the Protestant prelate said. 

Sister Elenita Belardo, national coordinator of the Rural Missionaries of the Philippines, said the ruling "gives hope to the poor who [Sister Fox] vows to serve with her life." 

Bishop Arturo Bastes of Sorsogon said, "the struggle is not yet over" because there are still attempts to cancel the nun's visa.

"What Duterte wants Duterte gets by hook or by crook," he said.

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