MANILA, Philippines—President Benigno Aquino was notified of the Department of Justice’s decision to ask for the cancellation of the passports of Senators Juan Ponce Enrile, Jinggoy Estrada and Ramon Revilla Jr. and 34 others charged with plunder in the Office of the Ombudsman.
“The President is aware of it, yes. Secretary de Lima informed the President,” said Palace spokeswoman Abigail Valte, when asked at a news briefing on Friday if Justice Secretary Leila De Lima’s action had been “given the go signal by the President.”
Valte, a lawyer, denied that this was part the administration’s way of putting pressure on the three senators, who are all members of the opposition.
“So, again, as prosecutors, it is perfectly understandable that the Department of Justice would undertake measures within the law to make sure that the respondents face the charges against them,” Valte said.
While the ground invoked by De Lima was “national security” Valte said, “I don’t think that the justice department classified them as threats to national security. I understand that the ground that is being invoked is in the interest of national security.”
“You know, as prosecutors in this particular case, they are expected… to undertake any and all measures within the law to make sure that the respondents face the charges against them. However, given that the cancellation is being sought under a particular law and under a different department, it will have to go through the proper evaluation,” she added.
In asking the Department of Foreign Affairs to cancel the passports of the three senators and their fellow respondents, De Lima told Foreign Undersecretary Rafael Seguis that there was “sufficient basis in fact and law to cancel the passports.”
She cited the Passport Act, 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.”
She said the government considered graft and corruption a national security issue “because it saps public resources, undermines the morale of the civil service and affects the delivery of basic services.”
The crime, she added, “breeds socio-political instability as scandals degenerate into crisis situations that undermine the credibility and effectiveness of the government.”
Valte said in evaluating the DOJ’s request, the foreign office would also “be giving due consideration to, or at least receiving the opposition or the comment of, the persons who are subject of the application.”
She said the justice department had to “resort to means that would allow them to prosecute the case with less delay as possible” because several respondents were able to leave the country in the absence of formal charges filed against them in the Sandiganbayan.
“Given the gravity of the allegations that have been leveled against the respondents, we understood the step taken by the DOJ,” Valte said, adding, “Given that there are respondents that are said to have left the country while the charges are still at the Office of the Ombudsman, you can’t blame the DOJ because it wants to make sure that the case proceeds smoothly.”
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