BAGUIO CITY— The sec­re­tary of jus­tice has no au­thor­ity to is­sue hold de­par­ture or­ders (HDOs), watch list or­ders (WLOs) or al­low de­par­ture or­ders (ADOs), the Supreme Court ruled on Tues­day.

Vot­ing unan­i­mously, the tri­bunal de­clared Depart­ment of Jus­tice (DOJ) Cir­cu­lar No. 41 un­con­sti­tu­tional “for be­ing vi­ola­tive of the right to travel.”

Supreme Court spokesper­son Theodore Te an­nounced the de­ci­sion nul­li­fy­ing all HDOs, WLOs and ADOs be­ing en­forced by the gov­ern­ment. A copy of the rul­ing had yet to be is­sued.

“The court … deter­mined that there was no le­gal ba­sis for the Depart­ment Cir­cu­lar No. 41 be­cause of the ab­sence of a law au­tho­riz­ing the sec­re­tary of jus­tice to is­sue hold de­par­ture or­ders, watch list or­ders or al­low de­par­ture or­ders,” Te told re­porters here where Supreme Court jus­tices were hold­ing their an­nual sum­mer ses­sion.

Ar­royo pe­ti­tion

Cir­cu­lar No. 41 was is­sued by then act­ing Jus­tice Sec­re­tary Al­berto Agra on June 7, 2010. Iron­i­cally, Agra was an ap­pointee of for­mer Pres­i­dent and now Pam­panga Rep. Glo­ria Ma­ca­pa­gal-Ar­royo.

The Supreme Court re­solved the pe­ti­tion of Ar­royo, who chal­lenged the WLO is­sued in 2011 by then Jus­tice Sec­re­tary and now Sen. Leila de Lima.

De Lima in­voked her pre­de­ces­sor’s cir­cu­lar.

Her or­der pre­vented the for­mer Pres­i­dent, who was then fac­ing an elec­toral sab­o­tage com­plaint, and her hus­band, Jose Miguel Ar­royo, from leav­ing on an in­ter­na­tional flight at Ni­noy Aquino In­ter­na­tional Air­port on Nov. 15, 2011.

Ar­royo, who wanted to seek med­i­cal treat­ment abroad, had se­cured an or­der from the Supreme Court ear­lier that day can­cel­ing De Lima’s “watch list or­der” since no case had been filed against her at the time.

But De Lima or­dered im­mi­gra­tion au­thor­i­ties to stop the wheel­chair-bound Ar­royo from board­ing, say­ing she had not re­ceived a copy of the Supreme Court’s tem­po­rary re­strain­ing or­der.

Ar­royo was charged with elec­toral sab­o­tage be­fore the Pasay Re­gional Trial Court on Nov. 18, 2011. She and her coac­cused, in­clud­ing for­mer Com­mis­sion on Elec­tions Chair Ben­jamin Aba­los Sr., were ac­quit­ted in 2015.

An HDO was also is­sued in 2011 against Efraim Gen­uino, then chair of Philip­pine Amuse­ment and Gam­ing Corp.

Per­sons slapped with hold de­par­ture or­ders or who were on gov­ern­ment watch lists had to get an ADO to leave the coun­try.

Cir­cu­lar No. 41 “ex­pressly re­pealed pre­vi­ous rules and reg­u­la­tions con­tained in DOJ Cir­cu­lar Nos. 17 and 18 is­sued by for­mer Jus­tice Sec­re­taries Sil­vestre Bello III and Raul Gon­za­lez, re­spec­tively,” said Te.

In­hib­ited self

As­so­ciate Jus­tice Al­fredo Caguioa, who served as chief le­gal coun­sel of then Pres­i­dent Benigno Aquino III, in­hib­ited him­self from the case.

De Lima served as jus­tice sec­re­tary in the Aquino ad­min­is­tra­tion.

As­so­ciate Jus­tice An­dres Reyes Jr. wrote the de­ci­sion while act­ing Chief Jus­tice An­to­nio Car­pio and As­so­ciate Jus­tice Mar­vic Leo­nen would is­sue sep­a­rate con­cur­ring opin­ions, Te said.

Be­fore Cir­cu­lar No. 41 was is­sued, only Re­gional Trial Courts had the power to stop an ac­cused in crim­i­nal cases from leav­ing the coun­try through an HDO.

Un­der the cir­cu­lar, the jus- tice sec­re­tary could is­sue a hold de­par­ture or­der against per­sons tried in courts other than Re­gional Trial Courts; against for­eign­ers charged in a civil or la­bor case; and any­one re­quested by top gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials.

The jus­tice sec­re­tary could also place un­der a watch list or- der those un­der in­ves­ti­ga­tion for a crim­i­nal case, in­clud­ing hu­man traf­fick­ing.

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