De Lima asks DFA: Cancel passports of Enrile et al.
Justice Secretary Leila de Lima on Thursday said she had asked the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) to cancel the passports of Senators Juan Ponce Enrile, Jinggoy Estrada and Ramon Revilla Jr. and 35 others charged with plunder in the Office of the Ombudsman in connection with the alleged P10-billion pork barrel racket.
In her letter to Foreign Undersecretary Rafael Seguis on Wednesday, De Lima said there was “sufficient basis in fact and law to cancel the passports.”
She cited the Philippine Passport Act of 1996, which 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.”
The government considers graft and corruption a national security policy “because it saps public resources, undermines the morale of the civil service and affects the delivery of basic services,” De Lima said.
The crime, she added, “breeds sociopolitical instability as scandals degenerates into crisis situations that undermine the credibility and effectiveness of the government.”
Asked about the Department of Justice (DOJ) request, DFA spokesman Raul Hernandez said: “We have yet to receive a request from the DOJ on this issue. When we receive one, we will assess [it] and proceed from there.”
Hernandez said the DFA would have to “see what are the justifications” of the DOJ for the cancellation request.
“Let them do what they want. Let the DFA decide. We can’t do anything,” Estrada said on the phone.
“They have already filed their report to the Ombudsman, and by that, they have no authority any longer to declare those they charge as ‘national security risks,’” said Joel Bodegon, Revilla’s lawyer. He also said his client was “wrongfully charged.”
Enrile’s staff had no immediate comment.
On Sept. 16, the National Bureau of Investigation filed a complaint in the Office of the Ombudsman against Janet Lim-Napoles, the alleged brains behind the P10-billion pork barrel scam that ran for 10 years, channeling allocations from the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) to ghost projects and kickbacks.
Charged with Napoles were the three senators and 34 other people.
The passports of Napoles, who is under police detention, and her brother Reynald Lim were earlier canceled by the DFA.
Enrile aide gone
De Lima noted that four of the 37 had already left the country: Enrile’s former chief of staff Gigi Reyes, Ruby Chan Tuason, Rodolfo Plaza and Antonio Ortiz.
In the complaint, Tuason was identified as a representative of Enrile and Estrada. She is the widow of the late cousin of former First Gentleman Mike Arroyo.
Plaza is a former Agusan del Sur representative. Ortiz is a former director general of the Technology Resource Center.
“Are we just going to wait so more of those we charged will leave the country?” De Lima replied when asked why she wanted to cancel the passports of people who have not yet been charged in court.
She described the respondents in the plunder case as “flight risks” who have the “capacity and the resources” to flee the country.
She also pointed out that the four who had already left did so a few days before the NBI filed the first batch of PDAF cases in Office of the Ombudsman.
“It can’t be helped if one thinks that they left because they wanted to avoid the cases. Look at the dates. And then where are they now? Nobody knows? They haven’t returned yet. So our suspicion is that they are trying to escape accountability. We don’t want that by the time the Ombudsman finishes its preliminary investigation and files the case in the Sandiganbayan, most of those we want to prosecute have all gone. How will the case proceed if there are no more to be tried?” she added.
The justice secretary said in the case of the legislators, she hoped Congress and its leaders would understand the DOJ was just performing its mandate.
“We’re doing this to keep them within the reach of the lawful processes, whether it’s the Ombudsman or the Sandiganbayan, so that there will be no delays and that the proceedings will go unhampered,” she said.
Money stolen from poor
In asking for the cancellation of the passports, De Lima likewise cited the United Nations Convention against Corruption, which the Philippines ratified in 2006. The convention regards corruption as a threat to social stability and security.
The justice secretary said corruption threatened national security because money stolen from the rural poor “exponentially drives the incentive for disenchantment if not outright hostility against the government.”
“Those who jeopardize government-spurred economic revitalization through grassroots projects effectively undermine the nation’s economic security, and expose Philippine society to all kinds of civil and political unrest. This is how corruption endangers the nation,” she said.
De Lima said the NBI probe had found “clear and convincing evidence” that those charged participated in the unlawful diversion and misuse of PDAF.
“The possibility that several of the subject persons will be in detention throughout the trial of their case is high, and therefore there is a strong probability that they will attempt to leave the country in order to evade arrest, detention and prosecution altogether.
“The options for these subject persons are severely limited and as their time of reckoning with the Ombudsman fast approaches, many will begin to make the hard choice, as some of them already have, of simply fleeing the country, the same being the only real viable option against the certainty of imprisonment once warrants of arrest are issued,” De Lima said.—With reports from Norman Bordadora and Tarra Quismundo
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