MANILA, Philippines (1st UPDATE) - Justice Secretary Leila de Lima on Tuesday said the Philippine government will stop the Arroyo couple from leaving the country today despite a Supreme Court order blocking the watch list order against the Arroyos.
In a press briefing in Malacañang, de Lima said a government watch list order (WLO) against former President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo and her husband, Mike, remains in effect until the Department of Justice (DOJ) receives a copy of the Supreme Court-issued temporary restraining order (TRO).
She said the TRO cannot be implemented until the Supreme Court rules on the motion for reconsideration that the Office of Solicitor General intends to file before the Court.
"I have ordered the Bureau of Immigration and requested the Secretary of the Department of Transportation and Communications to direct the Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines and Ninoy Aquino International Airport management and personnel to exhaust all actions to implement the watch list order against the Arroyos," she told reporters.
She added that in the event "the Arroyos appear in the airports or any other ports of exit," all concerned agencies must prevent them from leaving.
For his part, Supreme Court spokesman Jose Midas Marquez said the TRO is effective immediately once the Arroyos comply with the conditions imposed by the Court. He said those who defy the Court order risks being held in contempt.
De Lima said the Arroyo couple made bookings to leave the country on 6 different flights today. Three of the flights were for Singapore, she said, starting at 4 p.m.
The last flight booked was at 9 p.m. today.
She said the bookings were for Singapore Airlines, Philippine Airlines and "possibly through Dragon Air."
"There is this intention to immediately leave the country and that is puzzling to us...On their travel plans, they have not been forthright about their real intentions," she said.
The Arroyo couple earlier filed separate petitions asking the Supreme Court to issue a TRO on the Department of Justice watchlist order. The WLO prevents the Arroyos from leaving the country without government permission.
The Arroyo couple also urged the Court to declare as unconstitutional Department of Justice Circular 41 which gives the Justice secretary powers to issue travel restrictions.
De Lima turned down the former President's petition for an allow departure order (ADO), saying she found no compelling reason to allow Arroyo to leave the country.
Case vs Arroyos before Christmas
De Lima said she is surprised that the SC issued the TRO today while oral arguments on the Arroyo petitions were scheduled next week.
She said President Aquino was "dismayed" by the issuance of the TRO since it was issued before government officials were allowed to present their side.
De Lima questioned if the Court-imposed conditions on the Arroyos, such as the posting of a P2 million bond, appointment of legal representatives and reporting in Philippine consulates, would guarantee that the couple would return to the Philippines.
The justice chief downplayed criticism that the Arroyos could be prevented from leaving if the DOJ had filed cases against them before the courts.
"We can always file any case as soon as it is ripe for filing but one thing is sure, we cannot file just for the sake of filing. Cases are being readied, making sure that we have the right evidence...and the charges will stick," she said.
She added that she had told the President that the cases will be filed before Christmas.
She noted the Arroyos are also pushing the Supreme Court to nullify the creation of the joint DOJ-Commission on Elections committee investigating fraud in the 2007 election.
The justice secretary admitted feeling irked by the Arroyo camp's statements such as threats to ask for her disbarment or that she resign her post.
"It's harassment...What is their agenda there? To tire me, frighten? Forget it," she said.
SC spokesman Marquez, meanwhile, urged the Philippine government to respect the TRO, saying that it risks contempt proceedings if it defies the order.
"Dapat siguro respetuhin natin ang ating Korte at mga proseso nito. Kung talagang umabot dun, meron naman tayong contempt proceedings," he told radio dzMM.
He added that those cited in contempt could face a fine or imprisonment, depending on the circumstances.
Marquez said the TRO is considered effective once issued by the Court.
Asked about de Lima's position on the TRO, he said: "We respect her position but what we are used to is once the Court issues the TRO, it is considered effective immediately. Maybe they can place their position in the motion for reconsideration."