De Lima hit over passport cancellation-A A +A
Saturday, October 26, 2013
MANILA -- Members of Congress criticized Justice Secretary Leila de Lima for asking for the cancellation of passports of the personalities involved in the multi-billion peso priority development assistance fund (PDAF) scam.
Last Thursday, de Lima asked the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) to cancel the passports of Senators Ramon "Bong" Revilla Jr., Juan Ponce Enrile and Jinggoy Estrada, along with 35 others charged in connection with the pork barrel scam.
The three senators have previously been charged with plunder before the Office of the Ombudsman.
House independent minority bloc leader Ferdinand Martin Romualdez, also a lawyer, said de Lima's move is premature.
"That is not legal. It is premature. The cases are still with the Ombudsman and are yet to be filed in the court which is the Sandiganbayan. Why are they in such a hurry? Why preempt the court?" Romualdez, a partymate of Revilla under the Lakas-Christian Muslim Democrats (Lakas-CMD), told reporters.
De Lima 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 officer 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.
"What they are doing is prosecution by press release. The DOJ Secretary should be more circumspect in her powers and follow the process instead of immediately jumping the gun which is unnecessary," Romualdez added.
Dasmarinas City Representative Elpidio Barzaga Jr., a stalwart of the National Unity Party which is allied with the Aquino administration, said that there is no legal basis for de Lima's request.
"That's premature. The preliminary investigation has not even started before the Ombudsman. As such, there is no sufficient factual and legal basis to cancel the passports of Senators Enrile, Estrada and Revilla. To hold them would render their constitutional right to travel illusory," Barzaga said.
However, Senator Miriam Defensor Santiago sees nothing wrong if the government will cancel the passports of lawmakers and other personalities implicated in the alleged pork barrel scam, saying that it is allowed under Philippine laws and under an international treaty the country signed in 2005.
An expert in constitutional law, Santiago cited the 2005 United Nations Convention against Corruption (UNCAC), which states that each state party "shall endeavour to ensure that any discretionary legal powers under its domestic law relating to the prosecution of persons for offences established in accordance with this Convention are exercised to maximize the effectiveness of law enforcement measures."
She further explained that even the UNCAC preamble specifically states that "cases of corruption that involve vast quantities of assets ... threaten the political stability and sustainable development of states."
"In the interest of national security, the state is not immobilized by its own domestic law to allow persons in interest to morph into fugitives from justice before taking what could be a futile action," Santiago said.
Santiago said that by analogy, in international law, the early cancellation of a passport by government is an act of preemptive self-defense.
"You don't wait for a shot to be fired before you press the trigger," she said.
Senator Revilla on Saturday claimed that the current administration was obviously demonstrating a crack down on members of the opposition.
Revilla accused the Aquino administration of punishing political enemies in utter disregard of human rights enshrined in the Constitution.
The senator from Cavite also laughed off the allegations that the three senators involved in the pork barrel scam are threats to national security.
"How can we be a serious threat to national security? I would like to remind them that we are under a democratic system. They have to recognize that we have our basic human rights that they cannot disregard," Revilla said.
The DFA had asked for a written comment from the Revilla and others with regard to the de Lima's request.
Malacanang admitted that President Benigno Aquino III had been told of de Lima's request but declined to further elaborate. (With Camille P. Balagtas/Sunnex)