DOJ: Cancel passports of Enrile, Estrada, Revilla-A A +A
Thursday, October 24, 2013
MANILA (Updated) -- Justice Secretary Leila de Lima formally asked the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) on Thursday to cancel the passports of 37 people who are facing cases in connection with the alleged pork barrel scam.
On top of the list were Senators Juan Ponce Enrile, Jinggoy Estrada and Ramon "Bong" Revilla Jr., who all denied accusations that they received multi-million peso kickbacks for choosing fake foundations of businesswoman Janet Napoles as implementers of ghost projects.
Also in the request were four individuals who left the Philippines even before the filing of plunder and other case with the Office of the Ombudsman, namely, Gigi Reyes (Enrile's ex-chief of staff), Ruby Tuason (Estrada's former staff), former Agusan del Sur representative Rodolfo Plaza, and former Technology Resource Center director general Antonio Ortiz.
De Lima told Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario that the respondents were flight risk, as she cited Article III Section 6 of the Constitution that allows the government to curtail a person's right to travel in the interest of national security.
She also cited the Philippine Passport Act of 1996, which empowers the Foreign Affairs secretary or any authorized consular officers to withdraw or cancel a passport due to national security.
The same law provides only three grounds for the cancellation of a Philippine passport: when the holder is a fugitive from justice; when the holder has been convicted of a criminal offense, provided that the passport may be restored after service of sentence; or when a passport was acquired fraudulently or tampered with.
But for De Lima, the alleged massive scale of plunder and diversion of Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) endangers the nation because it may give rise to public hostility toward government and "exposes Philippine society to all kinds of civil and political unrest."
She said insurgents may exploit the issue by recruiting poor people who were supposed to benefit from the social and infrastructure projects under PDAF.
"It is necessary to ensure that those responsible for aggravating the country's economic insecurity through unmitigated plundering of its wealth do not travel abroad or leave Philippine jurisdiction, while their cases are undergoing, or about to undergo, preliminary investigation and trial. This would clearly be in line with the country's national security interest," De Lima said.
De Lima was certain that sending plunderers to jail will help keep public faith in the criminal justice system.
"The delivery of justice against the subject persons will convey the singular message that, this time around, crime does not pay," she said.
In a text message, DFA spokesperson Raul Hernandez said they have yet to receive De Lima's letter and "when we receive one, we will assess such and proceed from there."
Meanwhile, Estrada described De Lima's move "as malicious and political."
Estrada said the case is still under investigation at the Office of the Ombudsman and has not reached the Sandiganbayan yet.
For its part, Revilla's camp said, "We are not fugitives, why do this to us." Lawyer Joel Bodegon, Revilla counsel, said the DOJ's move is against the law.
Administration Senator Francis Escudero, a lawyer, also expressed belief that the DOJ is over reacting and going beyond the boundaries of the law.
He said the DOJ can only do such recommendation if there is a warrant of arrest issued against the senators. He reminded DOJ that the plunder case against the alleged Napoles cohorts has not reached the Sandiganbayan yet.
"Hanggat walang kaso at walang warrant of arrest, hindi maaaring gawin ito ng DOJ," Escudero said.
The DFA cancelled on August 16 the passports of Napoles and her brother Reynald Lim at the height of the manhunt against them, in relation to the serious illegal detention charges filed by the businesswoman's former aide Benhur Luy.
Napoles surrendered to President Benigno Aquino III on August 28 and is currently detained in the Fort Sto. Domingo in Sta. Rosa, Laguna. Lim remains at large. (With reports from Camille P. Balagtas/Sunnex)