Immigration bureau releases Australian nun

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, April 17) — Australian nun Patricia Fox walked free Tuesday after a day in detention.

The 71-year-old nun was released from the Bureau of Immigration (BI) headquarters in Intramuros, Manila at around 3:30 p.m., with a throng of photographers and television crew crowding around her as she emerged from the building and walked to a waiting vehicle.

She denied joining anti-government rallies as alleged by the BI.

"As a religious (person) I have been joining pro-human rights rallies for the farmers, for their land rights, to release political prisoners. When you call it political, I call it part of our duties as religious," Fox told reporters shortfly after being released.

Fox's lawyer, Jobert Pahilga, said that in the photos obtained by the BI, the nun was not joining a rally but was about to visit farmers in prison as part of her mission.

Fox was apprehended at a mission house in Quezon City Monday afternoon.

The BI accused her of violating the conditions of her stay in the country when she supposedly attended protest rallies and engaged in political activities.

Next: Preliminary investigation

The BI's legal division on Tuesday said, "Although the BI agents managed to present evidence that the respondent wrongfully engaged in political activity in (Davao City) on 07 April 2018, she was no longer doing the same at the time of her arrest on 16 April 2018."

Had Fox been arrested while joining a protest, she would remain detained for inquest proceedings, the BI said. But since this is not the case, Fox was released but will undergo preliminary investigation to determine whether deportation charges should be filed against her.

The BI also noted that Fox failed to present immigration documents on Monday, but it decided to let Fox go on Tuesday "after it was established that the Australian nun holds a valid missionary visa and, thus she is a properly documented alien."

It said Fox was issued a missionary visa on October 15 last year, which is valid until September 9 this year.

Gov't to foreigners: Don't participate in rallies

The bureau has said the basis of Fox's arrest was a provision of the Philippine Immigration Law of 1940, which says "any alien who remains in the Philippines in violation of any limitation or condition under which he was admitted as a nonimmigrant" can be arrested or deported by the bureau.

One of the conditions that we impose on all foreigners is that they desist from participating in any form of political activities," Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque said in a press briefing on Tuesday.***

In 2013, the BI deported a Canadian student and Dutch national for participating in an anti-government protest during then President Benigno Aquino III's State of the Nation Address.

'How can a 71-year old nun be a threat?'

Various groups staged a protest Tuesday, condemning Fox's arrest and calling for her immediate release. They said her arrest was part of the government's crackdown against critics and human rights defenders.

Senator Nancy Binay said Fox's arrest was a mistake and accused the BI of abusing its authority.

"How can a 71-year old nun be a threat to society?" Binay said in a statement.

The Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) said Fox recently joined the International Fact-Finding and Solidarity Mission in Mindanao. In 2013, she was also detained for joining protests in Hacienda Luisita but was released without charges.

Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra earlier said Fox's case "has nothing to do with her being a nun, nor with her personal advocacies."

"But like any other foreigner enjoying the privilege of staying in our country, she has to obey and comply with our laws," he added. The BI is an agency under the Department of Justice.

CNN Philippines' Anjo Alimario and Ver Marcelo contributed to this report.