MANILA, Philippines – Premature and without legal basis.
This is how two members of the House of Representatives on Saturday, October 26, reacted to the move of the justice department to cancel the passports of those accused of plunder and corruption in relation to the pork barrel scam.
Justice Secretary Leila De Lima earlier asked the Department of Foreign Affairs to cancel 37 passports, including those of the 3 senators accused of plunder – Ramon “Bong” Revilla Jr, Jinggoy Estrada, and Juan Ponce Enrile.
Revilla blasted the move as “ridiculous.”
His partymate in the House of Representatives, Leyte Rep Martin Romualdez, also came to his defense.
“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 said.
“What they are doing is prosecution by press release. The DOJ [Department of Justice] Secretary should be more circumspect in her powers and follow the process instead of immediately jumping the gun which is unnecessary,” Romualdez added.
Romualdez is the president of former ruling party Lakas-Christian Muslim Democrats, taking over the position from Revilla who is now party chairman.
De Lima earlier defended the legality of the justice department’s request, citing Section 4 of the Philippine Passport Act of 1996, which gives the Foreign Affairs Secretary the power to cancel passports.
The law states that “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.”
Undeterred, De Lima revealed the DOJ is, in fact, also considering the idea of pushing for the cancellation of the passports of more persons involved in the pork barrel scam.
Dasmariñas City Rep Elpidio Barzaga Jr, agreed with Romualdez that the DOJ’s move is premature and illegal.
“The preliminary investigatiom 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.
DFA has final say
For Malacañang, however, it would be prudent to just wait for the final decision of the DFA, which has the final say on the matter.
Deputy presidential spokesperson Abigail Valte said the Palace believes “the greater public understands the initiative of the Department of Justice.”
“And the move is also not without basis in the sense that we’ve seen that some of those who have been slapped with charges regarding the PDAF scam have left the country; and if there is no case yet, there are fears on what will happen about the case while they’re not in the country to stand trial at all,” she said. – Rappler.com
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