“Watchlist Orders” have been in use for 39 years, Arroyo’s ex-Justice Secretary Raul Gonzalez says - My exclusive
By Raïssa Robles
A piece of paper called the “Watchlist Order” is all that’s keeping ex-President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and her husband from traveling overseas. They have asked the Supreme Court to scrap Watchlist Orders altogether because these violate their constitutional right to travel. They pointed out that no case has been filed yet in court against them.
But their motion has angered Yogie Martirizar, who has been prevented from traveling abroad for the last four years by a similar Watchlist Order imposed on her by the government of former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.
Her requests to scrap the Watchlist Order were repeatedly turned down by the Arroyo government, Martirizar’s lawyer Nena Santos told me in an interview.
Martirizar’s case is particularly interesting because she suffers from a similar endocrine disorder as Mrs Arroyo. Santos said:
Martirizar suffers almost the same calcium deficiency absorption sickness as that of GMA. She has doctors in the Philippines that treat her for the same sickness as Arroyo.
Like the Arroyo couple, Matirizar is also charged with electoral sabotage. And like them, her case is still also under preliminary investigation and has not reached the court.
UPDATE: I’ve elaborated on Yogie Martirizar’s case in a recent post entitled - Gloria Arroyo’s downfall actually started in July
And contrary to what some commenters have pointed out to me, I want to repeat that to this day Martirizar’s case has remained under preliminary investigation at the Pasay City Regional Trial Court, the same place where Mrs Arroyo is now charged with the same crime of electoral sabotage.
Martirizar and Arroyo might even meet in court because she is now one of the witnesses for the prosecution against Arroyo.
Martirizar’s lawyer Nena Santos said:
When they were not affected, it was okay for them to affect ordinary citizens like my client with the Watchlist Order and let her suffer. Now, it’s karma. They want it removed.
Arroyo should be treated same as Martirizar, pursuant to Justice Secretary Alberto Agra’s Watchlist Order. Martirizar was not allowed by immigration to travel; GMA should likewise be treated the same with her own administration department order that curtailed Martirizar’s right to travel.
The Supreme Court will meet Tuesday on Arroyo’s plea. Santos said she might intervene because an SC ruling in Arroyo’s favor would prejudice her client:
I want to tell the Supreme Court that before, when my client was prejudiced (by the Watchlist Order), they did not complain. Now that they are affected they want it declared illegal and unconstitutional. Are they admitting now – that even before – they knew it was unconstitutional and illegal and yet they used it against my client?
Santos said they had never questioned the Watchlist Order because:
When a government agency issues an order, there is a presumption of regularity and validity.
Santos estimated that several thousand Filipinos have been similarly affected by Watchlist Orders imposed during Arroyo’s nine-year presidency. [The present Watchlist itself is unavailable online. But you can get an idea of how extensive it is by viewing the historical list of "lifted" Watchlist Orders". To do that, click on this link.]
Santos said that if the SC rules in Arroyo’s favor, the other “victims” of Watchlist Orders could use the court ruling to file a damage suit against Mrs Arroyo and her former justice secretaries who had prevented them from traveling abroad even though they knew that Watchlist Orders violated the Constitution. She said that after all, the Justice Secretary is the alter ego of the President and acts on her behalf.
He was her Justice Secretary for five of nine years. Besides, I noticed on the Bureau of Immigration website that Gonzalez had been “lifting” numerous Watchlist Orders during his watch, which made me curious about how those orders are imposed and lifted.
This is what Gonzalez told me:
The use of the Watchlist dates back to the Martial Law years (imposed in 1972). I (myself) was in that watchlist before, during Martial Law.
I asked him whether the Justice Secretary had the power to put names on the Watchlist Order. He said:
Yes. The watchlist in effect is an order to prevent criminals or violators of the law from just flying in and out of the country without any alert.
I asked him whether he could put on the Watchlist the names of people who are still under preliminary investigation and who have not been charged in court. He said:
As far as I’m concerned at that time (I was Justice Secretary) – yes – but that has got to be used with discretion.
If I’m on the watchlist, for example, the immigration will stop me from leaving.
Normally,what really should be done is if you suspect you might be in the watchlist you check with Immigration first before you go to the airport. That is the more prudent thing to do.
The government has to protect the integrity of processes in the country.
During the course of the interview, I asked Gonzalez thrice the same question – Just to clarify, Sir, are you saying that people who are under preliminary investigation with no case filed yet in court can be placed on the Watchlist?
Thrice, Gonzalez replied:
He explained that -
When there is a preliminary investigation, at least there is already a case. Medyo may basis na – kasi may kaso na ending before the prosecutors. (There is somewhat a basis because there is already a case ending before the prosecutors.) But that is not something that will take the place of a court order. The Constitution speaks of a court order.
In my time, when somebody was in the watchlist and when his lawyer would call me and complain, that gave me the chance to make an appreciation of his case and status.
You see, a watchlist may be the result of a rumor. There are people who may be envious of somebody. Let’s take the case of the husband – who wants to leave – the wife asked for him to be on the watchlist because the husband is taking all his children, things like that.
This is not something that has to be abused.
There is really a fundamental right to travel. A humanitarian right and a constitutional right.
I asked Gonzalez if the legal basis for the Watchlist was really the 1987 Administrative Code.
I think so. I’m not very sure of that now.
I asked him – Is the Secretary of Justice ultimately responsible for putting people on that Watchlist?
Then I added, but can the Secretary of Justice delegate this function?
He said yes but the Secretary of Justice ultimately remains responsible:
When the Secretary of Justice accepts a request for somebody to be placed under the watchlist, you do not always have time to examine that (request). So you phone the complainant to let that person justify it. The prudent Secretary, if there is such a thing, will try to make some preliminary findings that this request is true or not.
A very close friend of my wife wanted somebody to be placed on the watchlist. He has abandoned a daughter of this friend of ours – you watch out for cases like those, somewhat flimsy.
I asked him if anybody ever questioned the constitutionality of Watchlist Orders during his time. He said:
No, because there is a presumption of good faith.
Do you think GMA should be on the Watchlist, I asked him. Gonzalez replied:
I don’t want to discuss the case of Mrs Arroyo. That’s sub judice. I was one of those who asked her to file this, to go to the courts. About a week ago I had lunch with her.
How was she? I asked
She is sick. You can see. I have been with her for more than five years. She’s weak. I had lunch with her. You could see her appetite is not good.
Will you help her, I asked. He said -
If they will ask me. Although the president considers me as an adviser in these legal things. I asked her about her lead counsel. I said Maam if you need me just let me know. She’s in very good hands with Titong Mendoza.
I just want to tell you – during Martial Law at the cruelest period of our history – Ninoy (Aquino, the incumbent President’s father) was convicted, by Military Commission Number 2. I was one of his lawyers.
(When Ninoy fell sick and needed operation abroad) Imelda (Marcos) even escorted Ninoy to the plane at that time. Not only Ninoy, (Senator Jose) Diokno was also allowed (to go abroad). He was an inmate to Ninoy in Laur. Diokno was also allowed to leave for the US.
(Jovito) Salonga was also allowed to go. And Salonga never came back until the end of Martial Law.
Do you think Arroyo will return if allowed overseas, I asked him. Gonzalez replied:
She will return, I’m sure of that. She will return. I don’t think she will leave her name in the mud I don’t think she’s (Senator Panfilo) Lacson.
He added that in Arroyo’s case,
The use of the Watchlist is obviously being abused now.
When I asked him to elaborate, he said,
I would not like to discuss it.
Of the current Justice Secretary Leila de Lima, Gonzalez had this to say:
Obviously, while she is the one making the order, she is under orders herself. How many times has she said she will make a decision already. She and Ona (the health secretary) were called to the Palace.
Now we know each other. Her father is a close friend of mine. We were both governors of IBP (Integrated Bar of the Philippines) during Martial Law years. Her Auntie Lilia – the one in the EPZA (Export Processing Zone Authority) is also a friend of mine.
Why she doesn’t bend, she’s afraid she might lose her job.
I asked Gonzalez again whether a Justice Secretary could delegate the Watchlist function. He said:
At the end of the day, it will be the Secretary to determine.
I had a political enemy before – in Iloilo – na watchlist siya – he was leaving for Europe. I allowed him to go. I let him go. You have to do this always with a degree of fairness. Of legality.
And so I asked Gonzalez – do you think placing GMA on the Watchlist is unfair? He replied -
I think you can read it (my answer) already.