MANILA, Philippines – In the aftermath of the Supreme Court decision enjoining the Department of Justice from issuing watch list orders, Justice Secretary Leila De Lima denied the request of Sen. Teofisto Guingona to place the aide of businessman Roberto Ongpin under the immigration watch list.
Guingona had asked the DOJ to bar Josephine Manalo, Ongpin’s personal secretary, from leaving the country after she snubbed the hearings being conducted by the Senate blue ribbon committee on Ongpin’s alleged involvement in questionable transactions involving his companies and the Development Bank of the Philippines. Ongpin is being investigated for the P660-million loan obtained by his company Delta Ventures Resources Inc. from DBP, which was used to buy around 50 million shares in Philex Mining Corp.
Manalo is president and majority stockholder of DVRI and 19 other firms associated with Ongpin.
In a letter dated Dec.6, 2011, De Lima told Guingona that they cannot grant his request in light of the Court’s issuance of a temporary restraining order against her on Nov.15. The SC voted 8-5 to stop the DOJ and the Bureau of Immigration from enforcing the watch list orders issued by De Lima against former President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo and her husband, lawyer Jose “Mike” Miguel.
De Lima prohibited the two from leaving the country following their implication in the alleged vote-rigging in the 2007 senatorial elections. The Arroyo couple was supposed to leave for Spain, Singapore and Germany to seek medical consultations for Mrs. Arroyo’s bone illness. The incumbent representative of the second district of Pampanga has underwent spinal surgery thrice this year.
The SC granted the Arroyo’s petition for a TRO, consequently enjoining the DOJ from implementing DOJ Dept. Circular No.41, which authorizes the justice secretary to issue watch list orders. The constitutionality of the said circular – issued under Arroyo’s term in 2010 – is also being questioned before the High Tribunal.
“Until the TRO is lifted and the authority of the Secretary of Justice to issue Watch List Orders is upheld by the Supreme Court, we lament that the undersigned cannot order the inclusion of Ms. Manalo, or any other person subject of the Committee’s investigations and hearings, in the Bureau of Immigration Watch List,” De Lima wrote.
The Senate blue ribbon committee previously requested the DOJ to place Mr. Arroyo and her bookkeeper, Rowena del Rosario, under the immigration watch list after they were summoned for a hearing on police’s alleged anomalous purchase of secondhand helicopters. Mr. Arroyo was reportedly paid $700,000 for the transaction.
De Lima said their inability to grant Guingona’s request reflects “the dire consequences of altogether stripping us of the authority to issue the WLO.”
Since the effect of the TRO is “prospective,” De Lima said the DOJ is barred from issuing other watch list orders. “It’s a problematic situation,” she said, adding that she is also in a bind on what to do regarding a request to have the watch list order against retired Major Gen. Jovito Palparan extended.
In July, De Lima issued a watch list order against Palparan and four other military officers who have been accused of abducting UP students Karen Empeno and Sheryln Cadapan in June 2006. The two were tagged by the military as members of the communist New People’s Army. De Lima extended the watch list order in September for 60 days.
“How can I extend it? I’m covered by the TRO…We’ll be powerless to prevent everyone from leaving ‘pag may ipa-file na kaso,” De Lima said.