De Lima’s Debacle
If the Aquino Administration really wanted to prosecute Former President Arroyo, they should’ve filed cases against her a long time ago. What’s Secretary de Lima been doing these last sixteen months? If she’d filed the cases and obtained the hold-departure orders from the courts we wouldn’t be in this mess. Now she’s trying to take shortcuts because she didn’t do her job properly in the first place.
The Department of Justice had no legal basis to issue watch-list orders based on Memorandum Circular No. 41. Any citizen with no pending cases has the right to travel. A person can be barred from traveling based only on three exceptions: national security, public safety or public health. I got my legal education from watching David E. Kelley TV shows so I’ll let constitutional law expert Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago explain:
The right to travel is a constitutionally protected right, or in other words, it is a fundamental right. The right to travel means that if there’s any doubt if a citizen can travel or not, the doubt must be resolved in favor of the citizen. That is the meaning of the fact that the right is protected, not in an ordinary bill, but in the constitution itself.
The administration has disallowed Rep. Arroyo from going abroad on the ground of national interest. Notice that in the language of the constitution, national interest is not an exception. It is a very serious and grave mistake. To think that national security, public safety, or public health can be interchanged with public interest, they are putting words in the mouth of the Constitution.
The Department of Justice has no constitutional or legal basis—legal from the point of view of the Congress as legislature—for issuing watch-list hold orders or hold departure orders on its own. It must prove that there is a law that authorizes it. It only invokes its own Memorandum Circular No. 41. An agency cannot grant power to itself by issuing a memorandum circular. It is basic for an agency seeking power must be able to source that power from an enactment of the Congress of the Philippines, duly signed into law by the President. The memorandum circular is self-serving, and it’s not worth the paper it is written on.
Father Joaquin Bernas, Dean Emeritus of the Ateneo De Manila University School of Law and one of the authors of the 1987 Constitution, agrees. He observes:
What I seem to be seeing in all these and in some public reaction is that anger and hatred of GMA has taken over and reason seems to be consigned to the sidelines. That this seems to affect even the highest executive authorities is a sad, sad thing.
The bottomline is the law protects GMA’s right to travel. The law protects the rights of everyone, including former presidents accused of plunder and electoral sabotage (who are presumed innocent until proven guilty). Laws are not subject to the whims of administrations or public opinion. That’s for your protection, too. Rights guaranteed by the Constitution can’t be suspended just because people hate your guts. When application of the law is arbitrary, everyone’s rights are in danger. We should be worried that the rights of someone with the stature and wealth of GMA are not being upheld. Eh ano pa kaya ang karapatan ng mga karaniwang tao?
Yes, it’s possible that if GMA leaves she may not return to face the charges against her. Yes, the credibility of the Supreme Court is questionable, given that it is packed with Arroyo appointees. But the Supreme Court ruling is sound, however much we dislike the consequences. So who’s to blame if GMA manages to escape justice? The Justice Secretary who’s courting a constitutional crisis to cover up her incompetence.