MANILA - Justice Secretary Leila de Lima said there is no legal impediment for now to stop Senator Jinggoy Estrada and other co-accused in the pork barrel scam from leaving the country.
“There is no hold departure order or warrant of arrest yet from the Sandiganbayan, so there is no legal impediment for you to leave,” de Lima told Estrada.
De Lima was being cross-examined during her confirmation process at the justice committee of the Commission on Appointments.
“But you’re going to issue a watchlist order against me?” Estrada asked.
De Lima answered, “I can’t issue now because of a subsisting temporary restraining order from the Supreme Court, that has been our predicament, your honor.”
“How long can I stay abroad then?” Estrada asked.
De Lima said, “It’s not for me to give an advise to that.”
Estrada said he has no intention of leaving the country, for now.
The senator also questioned de Lima's actions at the time former President Gloria Arroyo was to leave the country for medical attention abroad.
Despite a temporary restraining order from the high court, de Lima instructed the Bureau of Immigration officials to block Arroyo from leaving.
Her actions then earned her two disbarment cases. De Lima insisted she never defied the high court, saying she was not served a copy of the TRO at that time.
NOT FUMING MAD
De Lima would later issue lookout orders to monitor the movements of those involved in criminal cases.
She insisted, however, that a lookout order is a mere "communication tool" and is not for the purpose of preventing a person from leaving the country.
"But so that when he or she appears at the airport to leave the country, what the BI personnel can do is to advise us that he or she is already there," she said.
The justice chief said there is no lookout order for Estrada. She said she was informed about Estrada's recent trips abroad because the BI men "are responsible people."
"They know you’re in those cases, they felt it’s their duty," she told Estrada.
Estrada then asked: "The second time I left, you were reportedly fuming mad at them for not informing you?”
“I wasn’t fuming mad. I just asked why I was only informed when you already left.”
“What if they informed you just when I was leaving? What would you have done?”
“Wala naman pala e. Why did you get mad? You will not even stop me,” Estrada said.
De Lima only said: "Because the BI was inconsistent. I was wondering why no one thought of informing me.”
Early in the hearing, Estrada also questioned why de Lima left out investigating retired Gen. Rodolfo Diaz, who, along with lawyer Levito Baligod and several National Bureau of Investigation men, supposedly extorted money from businesswoman Janet Napoles.
Diaz’s involvement came out after President Aquino finally revealed he got the letter complaint from Napoles regarding the alleged extortion.
Aquino said Estrada may know more about the letter since Diaz was former head of the Presidential Security Group during the administration of his father, former President Joseph Estrada.
De Lima said she did not see the need to investigate Diaz because the answers of Baligod and the NBI men were already enough to prove that Napoles was only using the extortion claim to cover up other scams.
“I felt there was no need to further pursue the claim because of the explanation of Baligod and the NBI were satisfactory… In fact, I was really so offended by the insinuations and accusations of Mrs. Napoles accusing the NBI of extortion,” she said.
She said it was Napoles’ way of getting back at them.
After the rescue of Napoles’ former assistant and now whistleblower Benhur Luy, the NBI at that time was already “quietly” looking into the pork scam.