Press Release
October 25, 2013


Sen. Miriam Defensor Santiago, chair of the Senate committee on foreign relations, said that under the 2005 UN Convention Against Corruption (UNCAC) and the 1980 Vienna Convention on Law of Treaties, the Philippines is obliged to cancel the passport of senators and representatives charged with plunder by the NBI before the Ombudsman.

"Let us assume for the sake of argument that there is a conflict between, on the one hand, a treaty to which the Philippines is a party; and on the other hand, a Philippine law. The conflict is resolved by the Philippine Constitution, which provides that the Philippines adopts the generally accepted principles of international law as part of the law of the land," she said.

Santiago explained that the phrase "part of the law of the land" means that a treaty to which the Philippines is a party should be applied as if it were a law passed by Congress.

"Therefore, if there is a conflict between applicable international law and Philippine law, that which is later in time shall prevail. The new law supersedes the old law," she said.

Santiago cited the 1989 case of Abbas v. Comelec, where the Supreme Court ruled that Philippine jurisprudence deems treaties to be of the same class as statutes.

"Since the Passport Act was promulgated in 1996, and the UNCAC came into force in 2005, then the UNCAC, being later in time, prevails over the Passport Act," she said.

The Passport Act provides that a passport may be cancelled only on three grounds: the holder is a fugitive from justice; the holder has been convicted of a criminal offense; or the passport was acquired fraudulently or tampered with.

By contrast, under treaty law, the Philippines is committed to implement the UNCAC in good faith, particularly the treaty provision identifying corruption as a threat to national security.

It provides that party-states are obliged to maximize the effectiveness of law enforcement measures relating to corruption, as provided by the UNCAC, Art. 30, para. 3.

Santiago said that the UNCAC preamble - considered to be an aid in the interpretation of the substantive provisions of the treaty - is premised on the need to stop corruption, particularly cases "that involve vast quantities of assets, which may constitute a substantial proportion of the resources of States, and that threaten the political stability and sustainable development of those States."

"The plunder cases undergoing preliminary investigation involve vast quantities of assets, including P10 billion" she said.

Santiago also said that just days before the cases were filed in the Ombudsman, certain personalities associated with two senators left the country last August. They are Gigi Gonzales Reyes, chief of staff to Sen. Juan Ponce Enrile; and Ruby Tuazon, said to have represented Enrile and Sen. Jinggoy Estrada.

"Under the Rules of Court, the flight of persons in interest points to a number of implications. One implication is that since the Ombudsman's preliminary investigation will soon be terminated and - in view of the alleged truckloads of evidence already reported by the media - will likely be charged in court, the possibility of flight is extremely high," she said.

Santiago added: "In the interest of national security, the state is not immobilized by its own domestic law to allow persons in interest to morph into fugitives from justice before taking what could be a futile action."

Santiago said that by analogy, in international law, the early cancellation of a passport by government, is an act of preemptive self-defense.

"You don't wait for a shot to be fired before you press the trigger," she said.

Coincidentally, Santiago was also chair of the foreign relations committee when she sponsored the UNCAC in plenary session. One of the members of her committee was Sen. Juan Ponce Enrile, whose passport is under investigation.

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