DFA asks Jinggoy to answer DOJ passport request
MANILA, Philippines - The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) had sent Sen. Jinggoy Estrada a letter asking him to explain within five days his comment on the request of the Department of Justice for the cancellation of his passport, along with the other personalities allegedly involved in the pork barrel scam.
With this development, Estrada and fellow Sen. Juan Ponce Enrile are readying their legal defense to contest Justice Secretary Leila de Lima’s recommendation to the DFA.
Estrada met with his legal team yesterday to outline the reasons why his passport should not be cancelled.
“We will seek an extension of the time to reply because their petition is 10 pages. Five days would be too short for us to prepare our legal defense,” Estrada told The STAR.
The senator said he is leaving it to his lawyers to build up a good defense.
Estrada said the notice was sent to his residence last Monday even if it was a holiday as the barangay elections were held.
Nonetheless, he will leave for the United States within the week to accompany his wife Precy in seeking a second opinion on the lump and cysts diagnosed in her breast.
Estrada added that he had spoken with Enrile and Sen. Ramon Revilla Jr., who is also implicated in the pork barrel scam, about the request to have their passports cancelled.
He said they all believe that there is no legal basis for such a move.
Estrada assured his supporters and critics that he will return to the country before Congress resumes session on Nov. 18.
He also revealed that he talked with De Lima de Lima over the phone last Friday.
“I just informed her that I have already scheduled this trip before the recommendation came up,” he said.
De Lima, meanwhile, admitted yesterday that her move to seek the cancellation of passports of the three senators and 34 others earlier criminally charged before the Office of the Ombudsman in connection with the controversial pork barrel fund scam is an issue the Supreme Court can resolve.
“It’s always a legal issue. That is a novel issue that can be raised (before the SC),” she told reporters in an interview.
De Lima conceded to critics who said that the legality of the DOJ request for the DFA to cancel the passports of Enrile, Estrada, Revilla and the other respondents in the plunder and graft cases should be determined by the court.
The DOJ chief said she got excited when her legal research showed graft and corruption cases as possible ground to cancel the passports of the respondents as a matter of “national security concern.”
“I think it’s the right time to settle this issue and discuss this direction. It’s about time the relevant authorities will consider that proposition or that kind of direction by looking closer at the Philippine Passport Act,” she said.
But De Lima stood firm on her stance that the DFA has the power to cancel the passports of the respondents to make sure they face preliminary investigation and possible trial under local and international laws.
She said the cancellation of a passport does not require judicial approval.
“It’s an executive function, it’s not a judicial function. There is nothing in the Passport Act that requires finding of probable cause or finding of guilt because a passport can be cancelled. This is an administrative process that is also subject to notice and hearing,” she said.
In her request to the DFA last week, she invoked Article III Section 5 of the Constitution, which allows limitation of the constitutional right to travel “in the interest of national security.”
She said the DFA has the power to implement this provision under Section 4 of Republic Act 8239 or the Philippine Passport Act.
She also cited the United Nations Convention Against Corruption (UNCAC) which requires all signatories – including the Philippines – to “maximize the effectiveness of law enforcement measures relating to corruption” due to “insidious effects of corruption on national security.”
De Lima’s move drew mixed reactions from various sectors.
Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago, a former trial court judge and judge-elect of the International Criminal Court, agreed with the DOJ’s use of the UNCAC in its request.
Vice President Jejomar Binay, on the other hand, believes De Lima may have misinterpreted the law.
Binay, who belongs to the United Nationalist Alliance along with Enrile and Estrada, said the link between graft and corruption cases and national security could be “a little far.”
Still, he said it is good that the issue has been raised for legal resolution. – With Edu Punay, Jose Rodel Clapano