The watchlist order issued by the Department of Justice against former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, businessman Jose Miguel Arroyo and several others in connection with electoral sabotage raps is illegal, as this impinges on the constitutionally-guaranteed right to travel, Senator Franklin Drilon said yesterday.

Drilon, a former Justice secretary, also questioned the continuing authority of Justice Secretary Leila de Lima for issuing, in effect, a hold departure order (HDO) “in the guise of a watchlist order” since only the regional trial courts can issue HDOs in cases within their jurisdiction.

“The watchlist order which has the effect of a hold departure order is illegal. To me, the watchlist order that encroaches on the right of a person to travel is contrary to the Constitution,” Drilon told reporters as he lambasted DoJ Department Circular No. 41 or the Consolidated Rules and Regulations Governing the Issuances and Implementing of Hold Departure Orders, Watchlist Orders, and Allow Departure Orders issued by De Lima’s predecessor, Alberto Agra, last May 2010 during the Arroyo administration which gave rise to the Justice department in issuing such travel restrictions.

Drilon believed that under current rules, a watchlist order is in effect an HDO because a person who is placed under watchlist should apply for an Allow Departure Order before the individual can travel.

“The right to travel is a constitutional right and a restriction on the right to travel in the guise of a watchlist order is also illegal,” he added.

Assistant Chief State Counsel Pastor Benavidez echoed Drilon’s position that only the courts can issue HDOs.

“A watchlist order which is in the nature of a hold departure order can only be issued by the courts. And therefore a hold departure order issued by the Justice secretary, to me, has no legal basis,” Drilon said.

Benavidez also said during a hearing of the Senate Justice Committee that a proposed legislation has been submitted for congressional action which panel chairman Senator Francis “Chiz” Escudero said is an “open admission” that the DoJ cannot exercise such directive without legislative cover.

Drilon then urged the Justice department to revoke the Agra circular “because it cannot be supported by the provisions of the Bill of Rights. It is repugnant to the provisions of the Constitution on the right to travel.”

Drilon likewise noted that while the Arroyos must be made to answer to countless allegations of electoral cheating, the Aquino administration should follow proper procedures.

“Whether or not you are in the opposition or in the administration, these rules should govern,” said Drilon.

According to the lawmaker, several foreign executives in the country have “expressed concern” on the DoJ’s issuance of a travel restriction, since “an ordinary commercial dispute can be made to appear to be a violation of criminal laws and on that basis, a hold departure order would be issued by the Department of Justice.”

“This has caused concern among a number of foreign investors,” he added.

“It is a continuous restriction on the basic rights of citizens and of individuals which we cannot tolerate in a democratic society,” said Drilon.