HOUSE Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr. is spearheading the probe on allegations that lawmakers were bribed into supporting the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) with funds from a suspected Chinese crime lord, Wang Bo, who was ordered released by immigration officials.
Belmonte authored and filed House Resolution 2151, with House Majority Leader Neptali Gonzales II and House Minority Leader Ronaldo Zamora as co-authors.
Leyte Rep. Ferdinand Martin Romualdez, leader of the independent minority bloc in the House, is being eyed to head the special probe team that will dig deeper into the case.
“I myself filed a resolution to investigate the Bureau of Immigration on the allegations, Belmonte said. “We want to get to the bottom of it.”
But Belmonte said the Wang Bo incident had “absolutely nothing to do with the House of Representatives” as he denied that any money was offered to win votes for the BBL.
The probe was prompted by reports in The Standard that Immigration officials had cut a deal with Wang in exchange for electoral campaign funds of the Liberals and for the swift passage of the BBL.
Belmonte noted that Commissioner Siegfred Mison and Deputy Commissioners Gilberto Repizo and Abdullah Mangotara were already pointing fingers, instead of issuing a common denial.
The decision to pursue the probe was arrived at during a lunch meeting between Belmonte and Zamora with some minority members at Zamora’s office Wednesday.
Shortly after the meeting, the resolution was filed.
The resolution orders the House committee on good government and public accountability to conduct an inquiry into the alleged “bribery and corruption activities involving Chinese national Wang Bo.”
“The Manila Standard Today published a series of articles alleging that officials of the Bureau of Immigration reversed a deportation order issued against Wang Bo, a Chinese national wanted by both Interpol and the Chinese government,” the House leaders’ resolution said.
“Wang Bo was apprehended by the Bureau of Immigration for arriving in the country with a cancelled passport, and for being in the Bureau of Immigration blacklist order,” the leaders said.
“Despite the request for deportation by the Chinese government due to an outstanding arrest warrant against Wang Bo for suspected illegal gambling activities, the Bureau of Immigration subsequently issued an order releasing Wang Bo from Bureau of Immigration custody,” the resolution said.
“While the release of Wang Bo was aborted after a strong statement from the Embassy of China in the Philippines that he is an undesirable and undocumented alien who poses a risk to the national interest, the articles likewise alleged that the order to release Wang Bo was due to the intervention of certain Bureau of Immigration Commissioners, allegedly in exchange for funds to be used for the approval of the pending Bangsamoro Basic Law;
“The articles alleged that the funds raised from Wang Bo was delivered to the Office of the Speaker of the House of Representatives and used by the Liberal Party to influence the outcome of the Committee hearings on the Bangsamoro Basic Law;
“These unproven and baseless allegations have raised serious questions on the integrity of the immigration and deportation processes and procedures in the country and have cast doubt on the integrity of the House of Representatives as an institution;
“It is imperative that the House of Representatives investigate these allegations in order to protect its honor and integrity as a law-making body,” the resolution concluded.
Leaders of the ruling Liberal Party prominently figured in the controversy.
Mindoro Gov. Alfonso Umali, treasurer of the ruling Liberal Party and a close ally of President Benigno Aquino III, took up the cudgels for Repizo and Mangotara, who were accused of cutting a deal with Wang to raise funds for the party and the BBL.
Repizo and Mangotara are both members of the Liberal Party.
Umali admitted the two officials are close to him and that it was he who recommended Repizo to be appointed to his post.
Umali said Repizo and Mangotara were innocent, and that it was Mison instead who made a deal with Wang, and tried to pin it on his two deputy commissioners when it was discovered.
Mison told The Standard he was willing to face any investigation.
“I will reveal the truth that it was the Chinese Embassy officials who officially relayed to me that Deputy Commissioner Repizo and other Immigration officials, met with a representative of Wang and after that meeting, they pushed for the issuance of a release order,” Mison said.
But Umali insisted it was Mison who made the deal.
Umali said he had already submitted a 10-page report to the President to expose Mison’s illegal activities and the truth behind the BBL payola deal.
Mison also submitted a confidential report to Justice Secretary Leila de Lima, proving it was Repizo who pushed for the reversal of the March 5 deportation order against Wang.
Based on a transcript of the May 26 meeting of the board of commissioners, Repizo refused to agree with Mison to reverse the May 21 release order.
“The decision of the Board of Commissioners, if I may add, is not purely legal. It also borders on political…,” Repizo said in the meeting.
“On a larger context, although this has no bearing to the issue at hand, they (China) even conveniently ignored countless provisions or issues on our border in the South China Sea,” Repizo said.
“All I’m asking is a little respect for our processes,” Repizo said, insisting that the Chinese Embassy was late in submitting authenticated papers on Wang ,such as the warrant of arrest and the criminal charges slapped on him.
Repizo, who wrote the May 21 release order, also dared those who would questioned his position to raise the issue to De Lima and even up to the Office of the President for reversal.
“This is also something that involves our discretion. If they have questions on that discretion on whatever would be the collective vote today, they can raise this to the Secretary of Justice or they can raise it to the Office of the President, and let the rationalization be scrutinized and studied and if warranted by higher authorities, be reversed,” Repizo said.
“We welcome any reversal from a higher authority, but on this particular situation, Mr. Chair, I am the ponente of this proposal to which earlier we both agreed. I am the one who put my thoughts on how the Chinese authorities have over-extended their authorities,” Repizo said.
Repizo stood by his position that Wang was not a fugitive, that he was not an undocumented alien and that he was a legitimate businessman operating Skybet, a casino in Manila.
Mison said Repizo misled the board by saying that Wang’s operation was based in Manila and so he should be prosecuted in Manila.
Mison said Wang was also wanted for money laundering because the proceeds of his crime in China were being brought to Manila for similar operations.
Romualdez said the reputations of lawmakers would be questioned if they didn’t look into the Wang case immediately.
He added that the integrity of the House of Representatives was at stake.
The House opposition leader also said the supposed circumstances behind the Wang case were too detailed to ignore.
“As representatives of the people, it’s the duty of the House to come out with the truth,” he said. – With Maricel V. Cruz
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