High court voids watchlist orders

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THE Supreme Court has declared illegal and unconstitutional the “watchlist order” powers used by former justice secretary and now Sen. Leila de Lima, when she halted the departure of former president and now Pampanga Rep. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo at Manila airport in November 2011.

The tribunal voted unanimously to void the watchlist scheme of the Department of Justice (DoJ), ruling that the government had no power to stop people from flying out of the country without a court order.

The Manila Times had reported that the former president would emerge victorious in the case.

The court said de Lima committed grave abuse of discretion in issuing the watchlist order against Arroyo under DoJ Circular No. 41 Series of 2010.


It also granted the petitions filed by former first gentleman Jose Miguel Arroyo and former Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corp. chairman Efraim Genuino, who were also barred from flying abroad despite the absence of a court order.

The decision was penned by Associate Justice Andres Reyes Jr. Justice Benjamin Caguioa inhibited from the case, as he was presidential legal counsel during the time of President Benigno Aquino 3rd.

The high court magistrates were of the view that the right to travel under the 1987 Constitution was constitutionally guaranteed under the Bill of Rights and no “watchlist order” of the DoJ could halt it.

“The Court, voting unanimously, Declared DOJ Department Circular No. 41 as Unconstitutional, for being violative of the right to travel under Article III, Section 6 of the 1987 Constitution; as a consequence, all issuances released pursuant to said DOJ Department Circular are null and void,” it states.

De Lima barred Arroyo from leaving despite the fact the watchlist order against the former leader was stopped by the court through a temporary restraining order on November 15, 2011.

De Lima defied the order and stopped Arroyo from leaving the country. Arroyo was supposed to seek medical treatment in Singapore, Spain and also in Germany for her hypoparathyroidism and metabolic bone disorder.

De Lima then filed electoral sabotage cases before the Pasay Regional Trial court against Arroyo on November 18, 2011, and an arrest warrant was issued after five hours on the same day.

The travel ban imposed by de Lima also covered Arroyo’s co-respondents in the electoral sabotage case, namely former Commission on Elections Chairman Benjamin Abalos, former Comelec Commissioner Nicodemo Ferrer, former justice secretary Alberto Agra, former presidential adviser on political affairs Gabriel Claudio, Maguindanao official Nori Unas, Datu Andal Ampatuan, Sr. and Lintang Bedol.

Eventually, the non-bailable electoral sabotage cases against Arroyo and Abalos was dismissed for lack of evidence.

Afterwards, Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales filed non-bailable plunder cases against Arroyo before the Sandiganbayan, for allegedly embezzling P366 million in intelligence funds of the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office from 2008 to 2010.

In 2016, Arroyo was acquitted and released from detention. The court said the plunder case against Arroyo was weak.

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