Guevarra seeks law empowering SOJ to restrict travel of suspects

By Jeffrey Damicog

Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra has urged Congress to pass a law that would allow him to restrict the travel of suspected criminals still undergoing preliminary investigations.

New Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra during his appointment confirmation at the Senate building in Pasay City, May 30,2018.(Czar Dancel / MANILA BULLETIN) Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra (Czar Dancel / MANILA BULLETIN)

“We are hoping that Congress will enact a law that will directly empower the SOJ (Secretary of Justice) to restrict the right to travel of persons under preliminary investigation for very serious offenses, subject to constitutional limitations,” he told reporters yesterday (August 8).

The Secretary made the call after the Supreme Court (SC) upheld last July 17 its decision to declare as unconstitutional Department of Justice (DOJ) Circular No. 41 which allows the DOJ to issue hold departure orders (HDOs), watch list orders (WLOs), and allow departure orders (ADOs) against suspected criminals.

Meanwhile, in lieu of the DOJ circular, the SC issued on Tuesday a Rule on Precautionary Hold Departure Order (PHDO).

Because of this, Guevarra welcomed the decision of the SC in coming out with the PHDO.

“I am so happy that the SC understands the predicament of the DOJ resulting from the court's previous ruling which nullified the HDOs, WLOs, etc issued by the DOJ,” he said.

“I thank the SC for giving the DOJ, with the assistance of the courts, the ability to prevent the flight of persons found probably guilty, during the preliminary investigation stage, of having committed serious offenses such as drug trading, human trafficking, large-scale estafa, and terrorism,” Guevarra added.

The SC explained the PHDO is “an order in writing issued by a court commanding the Bureau of Immigration to prevent any attempt by a person suspected of a crime to depart from the Philippines, which shall be issued ex parte in cases involving crimes where the minimum of the penalty prescribed by law is at least six years and one day.”

Under the PHDO Rule, the high tribunal said a prosecutor can file a PHDO application with “any regional trial court within whose territorial jurisdiction the alleged crime was committed.”

“For compelling reasons, it may be filed with any regional trial court within the region where the crime was committed if the place of the commission of the crime is known. The regional trial courts in the City of Manila, Quezon City, Cebu City, Iloilo City, Davao City, and Cagayan de Oro City shall also have authority to act on applications filed by the prosecutor based on complaints instituted by the National Bureau of Investigation, regardless of where the alleged crime was committed,” it added.

On the other hand, the SC assured that the issuance of a PHDO will not affect any findings of probable cause in the preliminary investigations of criminal complaints before the DOJ’s National Prosecution Service (NPS) and its regional and city offices.

“The preliminary finding of probable cause is solely based on the complaint and is for the sole purpose of issuing PHDO and shall be without the prejudice to the resolution by the prosecutor of any criminal complaint during the preliminary investigation,” it said.

The SC said the PHDO shall remain valid until recalled by the issuing court.

“Once issued, the PHDO may be lifted by a verified motion filed by the respondent questioning the existence of probable cause or a showing that she or he is not a flight risk. The PHDO may also be lifted to allow him or her to leave the country upon posting of a bond in an amount to be determined by the court,” it stated.

In its July 17 ruling, the SC affirmed its April decision granting the petitions of former President and current House Speaker Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, her husband Jose Miguel Arroyo, and former Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corporation (PAGCOR) chairman Ephraim Genuino and his two children to declare as unconstitutional DOJ Circular No. 41.

The SC, in its April decision, declared “DOJ Department Circular No. 41 unconstitutional for being violative of the right to travel under Article III, Section 6 of the 1987 Constitution.”

The DOJ circular had been used by then Justice Secretary and now detained Sen. Leila De Lima in issuing WLOs to prevent them from leaving the country back in 2011.

At that time, the issuance of the WLOs against the Arroyos were in connection with an ongoing DOJ preliminary investigation over alleged election fraud they committed.