SC declares DOJ ‘hold departure orders’ unconstitutional
BAGUIO CITY — The secretary of justice has no authority to issue hold departure orders (HDOs), watch list orders (WLOs) or allow departure orders (ADOs), the Supreme Court ruled on Tuesday.
Voting unanimously, the tribunal declared Department of Justice (DOJ) Circular No. 41 unconstitutional “for being violative of the right to travel.”
Supreme Court spokesperson Theodore Te announced the decision nullifying all HDOs, WLOs and ADOs being enforced by the government. A copy of the ruling had yet to be issued.
“The court … determined that there was no legal basis for the Department Circular No. 41 because of the absence of a law authorizing the secretary of justice to issue hold departure orders, watch list orders or allow departure orders,” Te told reporters here where Supreme Court justices were holding their annual summer session.
Circular No. 41 was issued by then acting Justice Secretary Alberto Agra on June 7, 2010. Ironically, Agra was an appointee of former President and now Pampanga Rep. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.
The Supreme Court resolved the petition of Arroyo, who challenged the WLO issued in 2011 by then Justice Secretary and now Sen. Leila de Lima.
De Lima invoked her predecessor’s circular.
Her order prevented the former President, who was then facing an electoral sabotage complaint, and her husband, Jose Miguel Arroyo, from leaving on an international flight at Ninoy Aquino International Airport on Nov. 15, 2011.
Arroyo, who wanted to seek medical treatment abroad, had secured an order from the Supreme Court earlier that day canceling De Lima’s “watch list order” since no case had been filed against her at the time.
But De Lima ordered immigration authorities to stop the wheelchair-bound Arroyo from boarding, saying she had not received a copy of the Supreme Court’s temporary restraining order.
Arroyo was charged with electoral sabotage before the Pasay Regional Trial Court on Nov. 18, 2011. She and her coaccused, including former Commission on Elections Chair Benjamin Abalos Sr., were acquitted in 2015.
An HDO was also issued in 2011 against Efraim Genuino, then chair of Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corp.
Persons slapped with hold departure orders or who were on government watch lists had to get an ADO to leave the country.
Circular No. 41 “expressly repealed previous rules and regulations contained in DOJ Circular Nos. 17 and 18 issued by former Justice Secretaries Silvestre Bello III and Raul Gonzalez, respectively,” said Te.
Associate Justice Alfredo Caguioa, who served as chief legal counsel of then President Benigno Aquino III, inhibited himself from the case.
De Lima served as justice secretary in the Aquino administration.
Associate Justice Andres Reyes Jr. wrote the decision while acting Chief Justice Antonio Carpio and Associate Justice Marvic Leonen would issue separate concurring opinions, Te said.
Before Circular No. 41 was issued, only Regional Trial Courts had the power to stop an accused in criminal cases from leaving the country through an HDO.
Under the circular, the justice secretary could issue a hold departure order against persons tried in courts other than Regional Trial Courts; against foreigners charged in a civil or labor case; and anyone requested by top government officials.
The justice secretary could also place under a watch list order those under investigation for a criminal case, including human trafficking. —Reports from Karlston Lapniten and Dona Z. Pazzibugan
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