SC: DOJ's watch list order unconstitutional

Kristine Joy Patag - Philstar.com
SC: DOJ's watch list order unconstitutional
The court was acting on the appeal filed by Rep. Gloria-Macapagal Arroyo, former president, and her husband Mike Arroyo challenging the constitutionality of the 2010 order.
AP / Bullit Marquez, File

MANILA, Philippines (Updated 2:32 p.m.) — Voting unanimously, the Supreme Court ruled that the Department of Justice’s authority to issue a watch list order is unconstitutional for violating a person's right to travel.

After nearly seven years, the SC ruled that the DOJ cannot bar individuals from leaving the country without a court order.

SC spokesperson Theodore Te said that the high tribunal held that the DOJ Department Circular No. 41, dated May 25, 2010, is “unconstitutional for being violative of the right to travel”, which is guaranteed by the 1987 Constitution.

Under the Bill of Rights, the right to travel cannot be impaired except upon “lawful order of court” or except in “interest of national security, public safety or public health, as may be provided by law.”

The circular was issued by De Lima’s predecessor, Acting Justice Secretary Alberto Agra.

Te said that the tribunal decided that the DOJ’s circular has “no legal basis...because of the absence of a law authorizing the Secretary of Justice to issue Hold Departure Orders (HDO), Watch List Orders (WLO), or Allow Departure Orders (ADO).”

The DOJ, under the helm of Vitaliano Aguirre II, issued immigration look out bulletin orders (ILBO). The order directs immigration agents to inform the DOJ should any of the subjects on the watchlist make an attempt to leave the country.

While it is different from a hold departure order from a court, subjects of an ILBO are required to seek clearance from the DOJ to leave the country. 

Standoff with Arroyos

“As a consequence, all issuances released pursuant to said DOJ Department Circular are null and void,” the SC added.

The high court was acting on the appeal filed by Rep. Gloria-Macapagal Arroyo (Pampanga), former president, and her husband Mike, challenging the constitutionality of a WLO issued by Justice Secretary Leila De Lima in 2011.

De Lima, now a senator and in detention on drug-related charges that she says are motivated by politics, invoked the DOJ’s Circular No. 41 and issued a watch list order against the couple, who were facing electoral sabotage charges for alleged fraud in the 2007 midterm elections.

The Arroyos petitioned the high tribunal saying that the De Lima-issued order violated their constitutional right to travel, to due process, and to equal protection.

The order effectively barred the Arroyo couple from travelling outside the country and led to tension at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport in 2011, when Bureau of Immigration officials kept them from flying to Singapore. The former president was headed there for a medical checkup.

Asked if the Arroyos can use the decision to file a case against De Lima, Te said that he would “not speculate” on the matter. 

The decision was penned by Associate Justice Andres Reyes Jr., while Associate Justice Alfred Benjamin Caguiao took no part in the decision.

Acting Chief Justice Antonio Carpio and Marvic Leonen will file their separate concurring opinions on the case.





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