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MANILA, Philippines – Blasted for its “ridiculous” move, the Department of Justice (DOJ) on Friday, October 25, defended its request to cancel the passports of 37 persons, including 3 senators, who face plunder and other corruption complaints.
Justice Secretary Leila de Lima said the DOJ, in fact, is considering a bid to cancel the passports of more persons linked to “large-scale graft and corruption.”
“Katawa-tawa siguro sa kanila,” De Lima told reporters, “pero katawa-tawa kaya ‘yan sa milyun-milyon na tao natin na naghihirap dahil sa pandarambong ng mga public respondents?” (It may be ridiculous for them, but is it ridiculous for millions of our people who suffer poverty because of the plunder committed by the public respondents?)
De Lima said the DOJ might be on to its next target for cancelled passports: those named in a plunder complaint over the alleged misuse of the discretionary Malampaya fund.
Respondents include former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. (READ: Plunder raps vs GMA over Malampaya fund.)
“I think tamang panahon para i-consider ‘yung mga ganyang legal moves to give teeth to our fight against graft and corruption,” De Lima said. (I think it’s about time to consider those legal moves to give teeth to our fight against graft and corruption.)
On Thursday, October 24, Senator Ramon “Bong” Revilla Jr, one of the 37 subjects of De Lima’s request, criticized the move. “Unless we are now under martial law, it is ridiculous for this government to resort to cancellation of passports of those they wrongfully charge as part of the pork barrel scam,” Revilla said.
He also insisted that “there is no law that defines” a national security risk, which is “not a ground to cancel passports.”
The DOJ on Thursday included Revilla and two other senators – Juan Ponce Enrile and Jinggoy Estrada – in its request for the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) to cancel 37 passports. (READ: DFA asked to cancel passports of 3 senators, 34 others.)
The 3 senators face plunder complaints before the Ombudsman over the alleged misuse of their Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF).
De Lima said the DOJ made the request “in the interest of national security.”
She cited Section 4 of the Philippine Passport Act of 1996 that gives the DFA Secretary the power to cancel passports. “In the interest of national security, public safety, and public health, the Secretary or any of the authorized consular officers may, after due hearing and in their proper discretion, refuse to issue a passport, or restrict its use or withdraw or cancel a passport,” the law states.
Not only will the cancellation prevent those in the Philippines from leaving, De Lima explained. It will also pressure those who have already left, to return.
‘I got so excited’
In Friday’s interview, De Lima cited the results of DOJ’s research that links “large-scale and massive graft and corruption,” such as the PDAF scam, to national security.
“I got so excited,” De Lima said.
She said the study proved “it’s about time that relevant authorities will consider that proposition or that kind of direction.”
De Lima also noted that the power to revoke passports belongs to the DFA.
“It’s an executive function. It’s not a judicial function,” she said. She explained that it doesn’t require a court’s finding of probable cause or guilt, because the decision is administrative – “although subject to notice and hearing.”
The DFA on Thursday said it will ask the persons concerned “to submit written comments on the request of the DOJ.” “On the basis of the written comments submitted, the department will make a decision on the request of the DOJ,” the DFA said.
De Lima said it is crucial to give the subjects of the DOJ’s request a chance “to say their piece.”
“Umaasa po ako na ‘yung DFA ay talagang pag-aaralan ‘yung request na ‘yan at pag-aaralan ‘yung mga posisyon ng mga different parties,” she said. (I hope that the DFA will really study that request and the position of the different parties.) – Paterno Esmaquel II/Rappler.com