Regulation is one thing, prohibition or unreasonable limitation is another.
We are hearing rumblings within the Public Attorney’s Office (PAO) as a new policy on foreign travel was imposed by the agency at the start of the year.
PAO’s new policy was issued after President Rodrigo Duterte publicly warned officials of the executive branch that he will impose a foreign travel ban to be effective on the first day of 2018.
But even before the president has formalized the said travel ban through a written order or directive, the Chief Public Attorney Persida Rueda Acosta, a rabid supporter of the administration, had already conducted a series of meetings with the public attorneys from different districts and told them that she is inclined to impose a similar ban on foreign travel for PAO lawyers and staff.
In fact, as early as December 29, 2017, the PAO central office issued Memorandum Order 487 revoking all travel authorities that were already issued and suspending the processing of pending application for authority to travel. The said memorandum was “signed for and by authority” of Acosta by Deputy Chief Public Attorney Silvestre Mosing.
Distraught and confused lawyers from the agency who were scheduled to travel abroad on new year and for the month of January were in quandary considering that they have already paid for their airfare, hotel accommodations, and other expenses when the office arbitrarily ordered the revocation of their respective authorities.
January is an inventory month for the trial courts in the land and generally no hearings are scheduled on the first three weeks. Thus, public defenders, public prosecutors, and even judges take advantage of this respite to have a well-deserved vacation outside the country.
The ironic thing is that when Malacanang finally issued a memorandum signed by Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea and dated January 03, 2018, the same does not impose a blanket prohibition or an unreasonable limitation on executive officials to travel abroad.
Instead, the memorandum merely provides measures and additional requirements that will deter government officials and personnel from the executive branch including those from the local government units (LGU) for having extravagant and lavish foreign travels.
But despite the memorandum issued by Malacanang, and its clear intention to regulate and not prohibit foreign travel, the PAO issued Memorandum Circular 001, Series of 2018 setting forth the rules of the office regarding travels outside the country. The memorandum circular is dated January 4, 2018 and was again signed by Atty. Mosing for and in behalf of the chief public attorney.
What is causing protestations from public defenders in the country is the provision in the memorandum circular limiting foreign travels for personal reasons for once a year only. According to lawyers from PAO, the once-a-year limitation is unreasonably restrictive and arbitrarily exceeds the measures set by Malacanang.
This is a case where an office order supposedly issued pursuant to, or in conformity with, a mother memorandum issued by a higher department, exceeds, veers away or violates the express provision and clear intent of the latter.
In this case, there is no provision, express nor implied, in the memorandum issued by the Executive Secretary that imposes a “once-a-year’’ limit to officials and employees of the executive branch to travel abroad. That restrictive limitation can only be found in PAO’s memorandum circular.
We tried to inquire from other departments, agencies, and offices from the executive branch and no similar imposition or rule on foreign travel was issued by their respective heads of office.
Moreover, the once-a-year limitation imposed under PAO’s new policy is null and void, illegal and repugnantly violative of the constitution as Section 6, Article III or the Bill of Rights provides that the right to travel cannot be impaired except in the interest of national security, public safety, or public health, as may be provided by law.
Obviously, only a law enacted by the legislative branch of government and not a mere office order or memorandum can impose a limitation on the right to travel. In fact, even Congress cannot capriciously or whimsically pass a law infringing on the people’s right to travel. The reason for the enactment of the same should be based on justifiable grounds of national security, public safety, and public health.
The problem with the overzealous, ambitious but incompetent PAO chief Persida Acosta is that in her desperate and pathetic attempt to impress the president whom she fondly calls “manong Digong”, she will mindlessly do anything and everything including violating the constitution, curtailing the rights of the people under her and acting like a mini-tyrant just like her idol Duterte.
Acosta and the other high officials of PAO should consider withdrawing or revoking PAO’s unconstitutional and repressive policy on foreign travel. Otherwise, the silent rumblings of its dedicated and hardworking public defenders who had enough of PAO’s unreasonable and senseless office rules and policies will turn into loud and indignant protests.