IMMIGRATION and House officials confirmed Thursday that Deputy Commissioner Abdullah Mangotora has tagged Deputy Commissioner Gilberto Repizo as the one who cut a deal to order the release of suspected Chinese crime lord Wang Bo in exchange for millions of pesos that allegedly went to bribing lawmakers into swiftly approving the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL).
“Kumanta na si Mangotora. Nilaglag si Repizo na siya ang nakipag-meeting sa representative ni Wang (Mangotora has sung. He said it was Repizo who met with a representative of Wang,” a highly placed source told The Standard.
Immigration Commissioner Siegfred Mison would neither confirm nor deny the statement, but said a key official was “ready to reveal the truth” behind the May 21 release order for Wang, a fugitive wanted by China for running an illegal gambling operation and for money laundering.
All three commissioners officially denied they cut a deal with Wang, but a confidential report to Justice Secretary Leila de Lima that included a transcript of their May 26 meeting showed all of them signed the May 21 release order.
The document also showed Mison tried to reverse the release order after the Chinese Embassy filed an official protest.
Mangotara sent feelers after House Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr. informed immigration officials and De Lima that the House was conducting an inquiry into the BBL payola scandal.
The transcript showed it was Repizo who authored the May 21 release order and that he was backed by Mangotara.
Both have since denied cutting a deal with Wang, despite reports that they had met with a representative of the fugitive just before they reversed a deportation order.
De Lima on Thursday met Mison, Repizo and Mangotara but said that there was as yet no evidence that money changed hands in exchange for the release order.
“While the insinuations are serious, there is no firm, solid or concrete basis to make such a supposition that money probably changed hands,” De Lima said after the meeting.
She said all three denied receiving money in exchange for the May 21 release order.
De Lima also said the commissioners raised valid grounds for denying the Chinese Embassy request that Wang be deported, although she offered no details.
“They have explanations on why they did not approve the request. There are technicalities cited for their decision,” De Lima said.
She added there was no reason to ask the commissioners to take a leave pending the congressional inquiry.
Nonetheless, De Lima assured the public that she would review the Wang case over the weekend and decide whether or not there is still a need for an investigation against the Immigration officials.
In the House, Belmonte has filed a resolution to investigate the alleged payoff, but denied that the money was used to bribe lawmakers to approve the BBL.
Belmonte tapped the leader of the independent minority bloc in the House, Leyte Rep. Ferdinand Martin Romualdez, to represent him in the committee on good government and public accountability, chaired by Pampanga Rep. Oscar Rodriguez.
Rodriguez said the panel will convene on June 9 at 9:30 a.m. for a preliminary hearing to determine if there was a need to proceed.
“Then if the committee decides to proceed, we will invite those deemed needed to shed light on the issue,” Rodriguez said.
Even if Congress adjourns sine die by June 11, Rodriguez said the hearing would continue and is slated on June 16, also at 9:30 a.m.
Mison earlier disclosed that Repizo and Mangotara had met with the representative of Wang to cut a deal.
“Shortly after the meeting, Repizo and Mangotara changed their tune and pushed for the lifting of the March 5 deportation order in favor of the May 21 release order that would make Wang a free man and would have his businessman status restored,” Mison told The Standard.
Mison admitted also having signed the May 21 release order but claimed he had been misled by Repizo.
“Repizo misled the Board by saying Wang was conducting his casino gambling operations through Skybet in Manila and that the operations were legal. He said that even if the operations in Manila were illegal, then it should be the Philippines that should prosecute Wang, so he had to be tried in Manila,” Mison said.
“Then the Chinese Embassy protested and submitted new documents that showed Wang’s operations extended to China and the income from his illegal gambling activities there was being laundered and brought to Manila making his crime transnational,” Mison said.
Wang, 31, was apprehended at the airport when he arrived from Malaysia on Feb. 10 after he was found to be in the blacklist and in possession of a cancelled passport.
“The release order was issued even if the Philippine government had been made aware that Wang’s Chinese passport had been cancelled, he was wanted by the Interpol, had a pending warrant of arrest in China due to his illegal gambling activities and other criminal activities, crimes that are punishable by death,” Mison admitted.
Official records, copies of which were furnished the Manila Standard, show the release order was issued by the three-member Board of Commissioners on May 21.
Mison said he learned about the meeting between Wang and Repizo from officials of the Chinese Embassy. He said he had ordered an investigation but has yet to submit a full official report to De Lima.
On May 26, the Board of Commissioners reversed the May 21 release order, but Mangotara signed the reversal with dissent. Repizo did not sign the reversal order, and stood by the May 21 release.
On the same day, Chinese officials submitted to De Lima documents showing that Wang was suspected of opening casinos in transnational network gambling and is wanted in China.
On May 27, De Lima ordered the May 21 release held in abeyance and upheld the original March 5 deportation order.
“We are conducting this probe to get to the bottom of this controversy and to put an end to the finger pointing,” Belmonte said.
Belmonte said the reputations of the House and several prominent members of the ruling Liberal Party were at stake.
Mangotara and Repizo are LP members. Repizo was appointed to the post upon the recommendation of Mindoro Gov. Alfonso Umali, a close ally of President Benigno Aquino III and the treasurer of the Liberal Party.
Umali earlier said it was Mison, not Repizo, who had cut a deal with Wang, and said the Immigration commissioner pinned the crime on his two deputies after he was exposed.
Mison has denied this accusation.
The independent minority bloc on Thursday also filed a resolution to investigate allegations that money extorted from Wang was used to bribe lawmakers into swiftly approving the Palace-backed BBL. – With Rey E. Requejo and Maricel V. Cruz
COMMENT DISCLAIMER: Reader comments posted on this Web site are not in any way endorsed by Manila Standard. Comments are views by manilastandard.net readers who exercise their right to free expression and they do not necessarily represent or reflect the position or viewpoint of manilastandard.net. While reserving this publication’s right to delete comments that are deemed offensive, indecent or inconsistent with Manila Standard editorial standards, Manila Standard may not be held liable for any false information posted by readers in this comments section.