MANILA, OCTOBER 28, 2013 (INQUIRER) By Tarra Quismundo, and TJ A. Burgonio - The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) on Friday gave three senators—Senators Juan Ponce Enrile, Ramon Revilla Jr. and Jinggoy Estrada—and 35 other respondents in the P10-billion pork barrel scam case five days to comment on a justice department request to have their passports canceled.

Even as Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario prepared to consult with the DFA’s lawyers on the potentially legally contentious issue—the first time the DFA has had to handle a passport cancellation request covering such a large group of people—Revilla yesterday denounced Justice Secretary Leila de Lima for violating his human rights and that of his corespondents in seeking to impose restrictions on their freedom to travel.

“This early we are being treated as worse than convicts when no charges have been filed against us. How can we expect due process when this early they want to punish us?” Revilla said.

He said that in labeling the respondents in the plunder complaint in connection with the pork barrel scam as “threats to national security,” De Lima was exposing her bias and “[pursuing] her own agenda.”

“Because of her lust for publicity, overweening ambition and desire to boast and project herself, [De Lima] has disrespected the law,” Revilla said.

Invoking national security

De Lima on Thursday asked the DFA to cancel the passports of the three senators and 35 others facing plunder complaints in the Office of the Ombudsman over the P10-billion pork barrel scam, saying there was sufficient basis in law and in fact to do so.

She argued that the government viewed graft and corruption as a national security issue and that under the passport law, the foreign secretary could refuse to issue, limit the use of or cancel a passport “in the interest of national security.”
Estrada yesterday sounded unfazed by De Lima’s move.

“As long as there is no court order, I can leave the country. But if I leave the country, I will assure my country I will be coming back and will face all the charges. I was born here, raised here and I will die here,” he said in a phone interview.
“There’s no other country that I know and that I love except the Philippines,” the senator said.

But Estrada, who has a scheduled overseas trip in the next few weeks, said he would defer to the DFA’s decision on the issue.

Repeated calls to Enrile, the third senator in the passport cancellation request list, went unanswered on Friday.

One case, one issue

DFA spokesperson Assistant Secretary Raul Hernandez yesterday confirmed the DFA’s receipt of De Lima’s request and told a press briefing that the department had begun sending out notices to the individuals listed on Friday, asking them to submit written comments on the government’s bid to void their travel documents.

“From receipt of notices, they have five days to reply, including nonworking days. We will then evaluate the merits of the DOJ request and the comments of the passport holders before we come up with a decision,” he told reporters.

Depending on the date of their receipt of the DFA notice, the respondents are expected to file their comments by next week.

Hernandez said Del Rosario and a legal team would be deciding on the DOJ request. He said the DFA would “treat this as one case or one issue,” issuing a single decision, even if some fail to comment.

“If concerned parties fail to submit comments, the decision will have to be based on the merits of the request of the DOJ and our interpretation,” he said.

“We will treat this as one case or one issue. The arguments of one party will apply to the others,” he said.

The procedure, said Hernandez, is based on the DFA’s reading of the 1996 Philippine Passport Act, which prescribes conditions under which the state has the power to cancel an individual’s passport.

Under the passport law, the DFA may only cancel passports of fugitives, convicted criminals and those proven to have fraudulently acquired or tampered with the travel document.

But the foreign secretary is allowed to use his discretion to cancel a travel document in cases involving national security, public safety and health.

Santiago supports cancellation

The justice department’s move got unexpected support yesterday from Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago, the Senate’s acknowledged constitutional and international law expert.

Santiago said the Philippines was obliged to cancel the passports of the three senators facing a plunder complaint under the 2005 UN Convention against Corruption (UNCAC) and the 1980 Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties.

The local law, in this case the passport law, should not pose a problem to the cancellation of the passports under the UN conventions, Santiago said.

While the UNCAC and Vienna Convention appear to be in conflict with the passport law, they are part of the law of the land under the Constitution, Santiago pointed out.

The UNCAC, which came into effect in 2005, also supersedes the 1996 passport law, she said.

“In the interest of national security, the state is not immobilized by its own domestic law to allow persons of interest to morph into fugitives from justice before taking what could be a futile action,” she said.

The early cancellation of a passport by the government would be an “act of preemptive self-defense,” Santiago said.
“You don’t wait for a shot to be fired before you press the trigger,” she said.

Santiago said that under the treaty law, the Philippines is committed to implement the UNCAC in good faith, specifically its treaty provision identifying corruption as a threat to national security.

Under the UNCAC, party-states are obliged to maximize the effectiveness of law enforcement measures relating to corruption, she said.

“The plunder cases undergoing preliminary investigation involve vast quantities of assets, including P10 billion,” she said.

‘Why the rush?’

Meanwhile, an opposition leader in the House of Representatives has questioned De Lima’s “undue haste” in imposing harsh travel restrictions on the three senators when the Ombudsman has yet to file charges against them in the Sandiganbayan.

“I think it is premature for the secretary to seek the cancellation of their passports. Why the rush? This is prosecution by press release,” said Leyte Rep. Martin Romualdez.

Romualdez noted that Revilla and Estrada have a “reputation” to protect since they are being eyed to run for higher office in 2016 and they would not risk angering the public by fleeing. He also noted that Enrile was 90 years old and too old to escape.

Romualdez, the president of the opposition Lakas party, which Revilla chairs, said the executive department has succeeded in focusing the spotlight on lawmakers in the pork barrel scam, as if the top government officials and the bureaucracy had nothing to do with it.

“It came from the top,” said Romualdez, who proposed that Congress retake the initiative in the pork barrel scam and investigate the executive officials who have facilitated these illicit transactions.

Aquino notified
Meanwhile, deputy presidential spokesperson Abigail Valte on Friday said President Aquino was notified of the DOJ’s move to seek the passports’ cancellation.

“The President is aware of it, yes. Secretary de Lima informed the President,” she said. With reports from Gil Cabacungan and Michael Lim Ubac


De Lima wants more passports cancelled By Edu Punay (The Philippine Star) | Updated October 26, 2013 - 12:00am

MANILA - Even before she could get her wish for the cancellation of the passports of three senators and 34 others implicated in the pork barrel scam, Justice Secretary Leila de Lima (photo) revealed yesterday that she is expanding her request to include former officials – this time in connection with the alleged misuse of the Malampaya fund.

De Lima said she is considering sending another request to the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA), which is seeking comments from Senators Juan Ponce Enrile, Jinggoy Estrada and Ramon “Bong” Revilla Jr. and the others on the DOJ chief’s petition.

The three senators were among the respondents in the plunder and graft charges filed by the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) with the Office of the Ombudsman earlier this month.

In her expanded request, De Lima said the P900 million Malampaya scam “is also large-scale graft and corruption, so the same basis for seeking the cancellation of passports of respondents in the PDAF (Priority Development Assistance Fund) case also applies.” She argued that “corruption is a national security concern.”

“This is timely with what is happening. I think this is the right time to consider this kind of legal moves to give teeth to our fight against graft and corruption,” she stressed.

De Lima, however, said she is still studying the proper time to send the second request – either before or after the DFA decides on the first request.

Among the 24 respondents in the Malampaya complaint filed before the anti-graft office are former President and now Pampanga Rep. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, former executive secretary Eduardo Ermita, former agrarian reform secretary Nasser Pangandaman and his undersecretary Rafael Nieto, DAR finance officer Teresita Panlilio, former budget secretary Rolando Andaya and his undersecretary Mario Relampagos.

Mrs. Arroyo is currently under hospital arrest at the Veterans Memorial Medical Center in Quezon City while facing electoral sabotage case before a Pasay court and a separate plunder case involving P365 million in Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office funds before the Sandiganbayan.

Last Thursday, the DOJ sought the cancellation of passports of Enrile, Estrada and Revilla and the other respondents in the PDAF case to ensure they would face investigation and possible prosecution in court.

De Lima invoked Article III Section 5 of the Constitution and Section 4 of Republic Act 8239 or Philippine Passport Act, which both allow limitation of the constitutional right to travel “in the interest of national security.”

De Lima stressed that the move to prevent the flight of the high-profile respondents whom she branded as “flight risks” does not require a case actually filed in court.

“For as long as there is valid ground stated in the law, the DFA has the power to cancel a passport. There’s nothing in the law (RA 8239) requiring finding of probable cause by the Ombudsman or issuance of warrant of arrest by the Sandiganbayan before a passport can be cancelled,” she explained.

She said the law clearly and simply provides for grounds cancellation of passports by the DFA – including existence of national security concern.

The DOJ chief also rebuffed the Revilla camp’s statement that her request was ridiculous.

“It may be ridiculous to them, but is it also ridiculous to millions of people who suffer in poverty because of plundering of funds by the public respondent?” she said.

Also included in the PDAF-related complaint are former congresswoman and incumbent Masbate Gov. Rizalina Seachon-Lanete (P108.4 million) and former APEC party-list Rep. Edgar Valdez (P56.09 million).

Three former congressmen were also charged for malversation, direct bribery, and other graft and corrupt practices: former Rep. Rodolfo Plaza (P42.1 million), former Rep. Samuel Dangwa (P26.77 million) and former Rep. Constantino Jaraula (P20.84 million).

No Palace objection

President Aquino has been informed of the DOJ move and posed no objection to it, deputy presidential spokesperson Abigail Valte told a news briefing.

“The President is aware of it. (Justice) Secretary (Leila) de Lima informed the President,” she said.

Critics of the DOJ request said canceling the passports of the respondents is premature because no case against them has been filed yet with the Sandiganbayan. Valte said that while the critics’ reaction was understandable, they have to realize that four of the respondents had left the country.

“Again, as prosecutors, it is perfectly understandable that the Department of Justice would undertake measures within the law to make sure that the respondents face the charges against them,” she said.

“We would like to give the Department of Foreign Affairs a free hand in evaluating the bases as cited by the Department of Justice,” she pointed out.

She declined to comment on DOJ position that the three senators were “flight risk,” saying the matter is being discussed by the DOJ and the DOF.

“Given the gravity of the allegations that have been leveled against the respondents, we perfectly understand the predicament and the moves made by the DOJ,” Valte pointed out.

But for Leyte Rep. Martin Romualdez, it’s premature to cancel the passports of the three senators and the others.

“Secretary de Lima is rushing things. There is a process for this. The case is still with the Ombudsman’s office. When it is filed with the Sandiganbayan, it is the anti-graft court that asks for the cancellation of the passports after the issuance of arrest warrants,” he told reporters.

Romualdez, who is Lakas president, said he doesn’t think that party chairman Revilla, Estrada and Enrile are flight risks.

“They would think of their reputation first. I don’t think they have plans of going out, even going to a destination as near as Hong Kong, because if they travel abroad at this time, that would be construed as flight from prosecution,” he said.

He said De Lima should just focus on filing charges against more lawmakers involved in the pork barrel scam “instead of making premature announcements in the media.”

“It appears that she is engaged in prosecution by press release,” he added.

Revilla’s lawyer, Joel Bodegon, meanwhile, dismissed Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago’s claims that the government can cancel the passport of senators and congressmen under the 2005 UN Convention Against Corruption (UNCAC) and the 1980 Vienna Convention on Law of Treaties.

Under the two treaties, Santiago said the Philippines is obliged to cancel the passport of senators and representatives charged with plunder by the NBI before the Ombudsman. – With Christina Mendez, Delon Porcalla, Jess Diaz, Pia Lee-Brago

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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