GOTCHA By Jarius Bondoc
The Philippine Star
Retired generals praise the no-frills turnover from Army Lt. Gen. Arturo Ortiz to Maj. Gen. Emmanuel Bautista last Wednesday. The two combat officers aren’t much for military adornments. They share the sentiment of elders that full-dress parades are useless expenses better left to cadets. So Ortiz limited his retirement and Bautista’s welcome rites to a simple, inexpensive massed formation.
Scarce military resources can be better used for personnel training. Smart generals and colonels meld their unit anniversaries into Monday morning flag ceremonies. One retired general suggests the scrapping even of arrival and departure honors for the President at airports and military camps. Even rich countries do not waste munitions and time on such rituals. Once limited to Independence Day, the general says, the honors came into vogue during Marcos’s martial law.
Incidentally, the rise of Bautista as Army commanding general has fired up troop morale.
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The irony amuses President Noynoy Aquino. Predecessor Gloria Macapagal Arroyo is contesting her own administration’s edict about foreign travel bans.
The bone of contention is Department of Justice Circular No. 41. DC-41 spells out the “Consolidated Rules and Regulations Governing the Issuance and Implementing of Hold-Departure Orders, Watch-List Orders, and Allow-Departure Orders.” It was issued on May 25, 2010, a month before Arroyo bowed out of office, by her justice secretary Alberto Agra.
DC-41 empowers the Secretary of Justice to issue Watch-List Orders. That is, the SOJ may require a citizen to first justify the reason for foreign travel before being let out. It even authorizes the SOJ to issue Hold-Departure Orders that are normally reserved for the courts. The issuance can be motu propio, or on the SOJ’s own. Or it may be on request of the Senate President, the Speaker of the House, the Chief Justice, or the head of any executive department. The awesome powers arise from the right to travel and the bases to constrain it. The Constitution states, in Article III, Bill of Rights, Section 6: “The liberty of abode and of changing the same within the limits prescribed by law shall not be impaired except upon lawful order of the court. Neither shall the right of travel be impaired except in the interest of national security, public safety or public health, as may be provided by law.”
Aquino’s Justice Sec. Leila de Lima invoked DC-41 to bar Arroyo from leaving for abroad this week. The former president is facing before the DOJ and the Ombudsman five charges of plunder and two of election sabotage. Being heinous, the offenses carry life terms, and are non-bailable. De Lima considers Arroyo a flight risk. Citing Health Sec. Enrique Ona, she also sees no urgent reason for Arroyo to travel abroad for treatment of hypoparathyroidism. Too, she says, the bone biopsy or alternative tests resulting from the endocrine gland disorder can be done in the Philippines by Filipino or foreign doctors of Arroyo’s choice. So before leaving, he insists, Arroyo must first reply to the charges. In particular, today is Arroyo’s deadline to submit her side of the 2007 election sabotage rap filed by the DOJ and the Comelec.
Arroyo petitioned the Supreme Court to restrain de Lima from enforcing the travel bar. Supposedly the SOJ is overstepping a power reserved by the Constitution only to the courts. Too, the SOJ has not specified the national security, and public safety or health issue to justify the travel ban. Besides, the heinous offenses have not been filed in court.
The Solicitor General replied that DC-41 should be presumed regular and constitutional. There has been no irreparable damage to Arroyo’s right to travel, Sol-Gen Jose Anselmo Cadiz maintains, so there is no need for an injunction. But if allowed to travel, he says, the State may suffer irreparable injury in not being able to bring Arroyo back for trial. So he asks the SC to schedule the matter for oral arguments.
The Aquino admin suspects that Arroyo is using her illness as an excuse to escape prosecution. Allegedly she intends to stay abroad until Aquino’s term expires in 2016. Arroyo’s side maintains, however, that the government can always cancel her passport in case she does not return from medical treatment. But the admin considers that too as a ploy. During a recent trip to Central America, Arroyo and family reportedly obtained Dominican Republic passports. Such travel booklets can let them stay out, even with the scrapping of Philippine passports.
Arroyo, now a congresswoman of Pampanga, had asked the House of Reps for an indefinite leave, but was granted only six weeks. She intends to fly to any or all of seven destinations: Singapore, the United States, Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Italy, and Spain.
DC-41 was the result of several revisions and modifications since its original version was issued in 1998. One of its permutations was used to bar the “Batasan 5” leftist congressmen from leaving the country in 2006 to 2010.
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