MANILA, Philippines (UPDATE) - Allies of President Noynoy Aquino cautioned the Department of Justice (DOJ) against issuing watch list orders (WLO) that have the effect of a hold departure order (HDO) as in the case of former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.
The warning was issued during committee deliberations on Senate bill 2202, which guarantees a person’s right to travel.
Senators were asking representatives of the justice department if they had powers to revise the rules on preliminary investigations without amendments to existing laws.
Prosecutor General Claro Arellano maintained the DOJ has the power to promulgate and implement its own rules on the matter of preliminary investigations.
However, the senators said that that power is only limited to filling in the gaps in the laws and not changing the laws themselves.
This was when senators pointed out Arroyo’s case.
Chiz: GMA can leave
Aquino’s close personal friend, Senate Justice Committee Chairman Francis Escudero, stressed Arroyo can leave anytime without the permission of the justice secretary.
Escudero said he does not even understand why Arroyo’s camp had to seek the permission of the DOJ and the Speaker of the House when she can just leave using her private passport.
“The current issue now on the power to issue a watch list order which is akin to a hold departure order. Di ko kinakampihan si GMA. Di ko maintidihan ang abugado ni GMA [kung bakit] nagpapaalam sa inyo,” he said.
Arroyo was placed on the immigration watch list due to cases filed against her. The DOJ says anyone placed on that watch list would require an Allow Departure Order to leave the country.
Arroyo’s husband Mike was also placed on a watch list. He questioned it before the Supreme Court for which he got a restraining order.
However, the WLO was withdrawn even before the court could rule on its constitutionality.
Only courts can issue HDOs
Escudero added the power to issue hold departure orders is vested only in courts, so the executive has no power to do that.
Ecsudero said the oppressive circular authorizing the WLO issued by former Justice Secretary Alberto Agra under the Arroyo administration should not be used on the former president, or else nothing will distinguish the Aquino administration from its predecessor.
“Hindi rin tama na gamitin sa kaniya ang ginagamit niya noon sa amin,” he said.
More than suspending the processing and application for hold departure orders, Escudero said the DOJ should instead suspend the effectivity of the Agra circular authorizing WLO issuances.
Escudero said De Lima has the power to undo or suspend issuances of predecessors.
Escudero added that even DOJ officials who faced today’s committee hearing asked the Senate to pass a law giving them such a power, which is an admission that they do not have that power now.
During that hearing, Arellano said their rules are only for the internal consumption of the department.
Escudero is a staunch critic of Arroyo.
Drilon on right to travel
Another Arroyo critic, Aquino’s partymate Senator Franklin Drilon, aired a similar word of caution against issuing WLOs that have the same effect as a hold departure order, which can only be issued by a court.
“I agree with the chair. You better be careful. You are touching on the constitutional right to travel. And a constitutional right can only be litigated before courts. Your WLO, which is in effect an HDO, meron pa kayong ADO," he said.
Later on, Drilon would add that the watch list, which has the effect of a hold departure order, is illegal.
"From the hearings that we have conducted now, no less than the assistant chief state counsel Pastor Benavidez told the justice committee that a hold departure order can only be issued by the regular courts. And a watch list order, which is
in the nature of a hold departure order, can only be issued by the courts," he said.
Drilon joined Escudero, who earlier asked for the circular on the WLO to be revoked.
"She should revoke the circular issued by the previous administration because it cannot be supported by the provisions of the Bill of Rights. It’s repugnant to the provisions of the Constitution on the right to travel," he said.