From the express provisions of the law, there are only three cases where a person is not allowed to travel; these are in the interest of national security, public safety or public health.
“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 to travel be impaired except in the interest of national security, public safety, or public health, as may be provided by law. – Art III ,Sec 6 Philippine Constitution”
Thus, a leader of a terrorist group may be restrained from leaving or entering a country in the interest of national security. Health officers may also restrict access to contaminated areas and also quarantine those already exposed to the disease sought to be contained. Where there is threat of a volcanic eruption, for example, residents in the affected area may be forced to evacuate and prevented from returning until the danger is over.
As travelers, we have even experienced a similar restriction in one way or the other. We are not allowed to travel or go near Mayon Volcano when it is on high alert of eruption. We are not allowed to travel to Iraq on the height of war (the prohibition was even stamped on our passport). We are even prohibited in going to Malacanang in cases of compromised national situations.
But are these exceptions exclusive? Where do the latest brouhaha about the DOJ not allowing the former president to travel abroad, despite the presence of a temporary restraining order issued by the Supreme Court, fit in?
Everyone knows that the Supreme Court is the highest court of the land, the arbiter of what is right and wrong and a neutral defender of the Constitution. So, it was a great deal when a DOJ Secretary defied the orders of a Supreme Court and refused to allow the allegedly ailing former president to leave the country to seek medical treatment.
With what has happened, Fr. Ranhilio Aquino, of San Beda Graduate School of Law fears of a constitutional crisis. A constitutional crisis happens when there is conflict between different branches of government. He said that the DOJ Secretary sent a bad signal to the people that court orders can be ignored.
There are instances, however, that a right to travel can be suspended even on cases not specified above. A person facing criminal charges may be restrained by the court from leaving the country or, if abroad, compelled to return. The court has the discretion to grant bail to a person charged of a bailable offense and will usually deny bail if the defendant has a high risk of plight.
If leaving the country, government employees are required to seek clearance from their chief executive/department head before they can travel abroad, even during their approved leave of absence or free time. In fact, immigration officials at the airport will not allow a government employee to board the plane if he does not have a written authority to travel. This is just between you and me but when I was in the government, never did I present any government I.D. nor tell the immigration officer that I work for the government whenever I travel abroad. This saves me the hassles of too much questions from them considering that all my travels abroad are not work-related. Tsaka sino ba naman ako para pigilin nila :)Sometimes, it pays not to be popular.
Also, there are cases decided by the Supreme Court where a travel ban on an individual was upheld. First, the Court has upheld the power of the Presidential Commission on Good Government to issue hold-departure orders against “persons who are known or suspected to be involved” as Marcos cronies even if these powers are not explicitly provided but merely implied from its power “to conduct investigations” and “restrain any act that may render moot and academic, or frustrate or otherwise make ineffectual its efforts. Second, the power of the Labor Secretary to issue a deployment ban citing public safety.
According to former UP Law Dean Raul Pangalanan, these two examples may justify the DOJ Secretary’s action because it is within the DOJ’s power to prosecute crime and punish criminals, which includes keeping those under investigation within reach of Philippine courts. It is a mere extension of its prosecutorial power to subpoena under pain of contempt.
At the moment, since there is a need for an express law on the matter, a house bill is pending before congress which will authorize the Justice secretary to prevent respondents in cases undergoing preliminary investigation to leave the country. The proposed bill will permanently eliminate any more possibility that anyone can question the DOJ’s right to issue travel ban against any accused, irrespective of nationality, in criminal cases in order for the agency to effectively perform its mandated duty for the wellbeing of the country.
But for now, without any express provision, majority has the view that equity and justice must prevail. We just have to wait how this next chapter in our history will unfold.