Finger-pointing on BBL payola starts

IMMIGRATION officials pointed fingers at each other  Monday  as lawmakers sought a congressional inquiry into reports that they cut a deal with a Chinese crime lord to bribe congressmen to swiftly approve the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL).

Oriental Mindoro Gov. Alfonso Umali, treasurer of the ruling Liberal Party and a close associate of President Benigno Aquino III, said Deputy Commissioners Gilberto Repizo and Abdullah Mangotara, who were accused of reaching an agreement with Wang, had nothing to do with the deal.

Umali                                                  Mison
“It’s Mison who made the deal with Wang,” Umali said, referring to Immigration Commissioner Siegfred Mison. “He turned the story around when the deal was discovered. Mison panicked.”

Umali admitted that Repizo and Mangotara, who are also Liberal Party members, were close to him, and that he had recommended Repizo to his current post.

Umali added that he has already submitted a report to the President to expose Mison’s alleged illegal activities and the truth behind the agreement with Wang.

Addressing The Standard’s report  Monday, Umali said: “I will no longer ask who your source was. It’s Mison. Everything that he pinned on his deputies was what he actually did. That’s all his doing. He pinned it on [his two deputy commissioner] because he was exposed.”

Told that Justice Secretary had affirmed that it was Mison who pushed for the reinstatement of Wang’s deportation, Umali retorted: “Who is Secretary De Lima?  Bata niya si Mison  [Mison is her guy].”

But Mison told The Standard he was willing to face any inquiry to prove he had nothing to do with the deal.

“I will reveal the truth that it was 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.

Mison added that official records would show that it was Repizo who pushed for Wang’s release.

Repizo, Umali’s personal lawyer and province mate, was a former councilor in Calapan under the LP. He ran but lost in the vice mayoralty race in 2010. Mangotara was a two-term congressman of Lanao del Norte.

Umali vouched for the two deputy commissioners, who he said, were following President Aquino’s orders to tread the “straight path.”

“That’s why when Mison learned that his deputies were made aware of his illegal activities in Immigration, he is now trying to impugn... them,” Umali said.

“As LP treasurer and a close friend of the President, it is my duty to inform him of the truth. After all, Repizo and Mangotara are members of LP and I vouched for them to the President,” Umali said.

Asked what the President’s response was to his 10-page report, Umali said, “The President told me not to worry because he believed me.”

Opposition lawmakers, however, demanded an investigation, saying the allegations of bribery had serious implications on the ongoing House debates on the BBL.

“The allegations of corruption.. are not only serious but also have national security implications and require immediate and thorough investigation,” said 1BAP Rep. Silvestre Bello III.

ACT Teachers Rep. Antonio Tinio added: “This is shocking. The House must investigate why this administration was dealing with crime lords involved in illegal gambling, laundering and other illegal activities.”

Abakada party-list  Rep.  Jonathan de la Cruz,  a member of the independent minority bloc in the House, said he would file a resolution calling for an investigation.

“If that is true then that only confirms what some sectors have feared all along, that this administration will do anything, including dealing with criminals and syndicates to push its anti-Filipino, anti-people agenda,” De la Cruz said.

He said the BBL was unconstitutional and would balkanize the country and bring it closer to conflict.

Administration lawmakers, however, denounced the reports of bribery as black propaganda aimed at derailing the BBL.

Majority Leader and Mandaluyong Rep. Neptali Gonzales II said the report  was “full of holes.”

“That was absolutely false,”  he said.

Quezon City Rep.  Jorge  Banal  said The Standard’s report was  “amazing and amusing, but very alarming.”

“The black propaganda operators of PNoy (President Aquino III)’s opponents are becoming more desperate,”  he said.

Reps. Gus Tambunting of Paranaque and Giorgidi Aggabao of Isabela said an investigation is necessary to substantiate such a serious allegation.

“It is difficult to speculate on this or other matters that imply these actions by government without any evidence. Instead of these, I would call on everyone to focus the discussion on the provisions of the BBL proposal that need scrutiny. These speculations should not distract us from the importance of the matters on hand,” Tambunting said.

“However, considering that this is a serious allegation, this poses a challenge to the [Justice  Department] and our investigating bodies. They must show the real  tuwid na daan  and investigate this matter with the same zeal and vigor as the investigations being done against members of the opposition,” Tambunting added

Aggabao, a House deputy speaker, said he would support any investigation but described the report as “a tall tale.”

“As a ranking member of the House, I can tell you that no quid pro quo ever happened between the  Palace and members of  Congress. It is also highly inconceivable that the ruling party would deal with a rogue Chinese. I will however support a congressional inquiry to look into the circumstances behind the release by the BID of the Chinese,” Aggabao said.

Cagayan de Oro Rep. Rufus Rodriguez, chairman  of the ad hoc panel on the  BBL,  also denied that money changed hands to win approval of the bill.

“Absolute rubbish! No money  was  delivered nor received by me last week or at anytime for the approval of BBL,” Rodriguez said.

Rodriguez  on Monday  delivered his sponsorship speech for the BBL, urging his colleagues to vote for the bill because it would bring lasting peace to Mindanao.

Rodriguez had earlier vowed to excise eight provisions in the bill that he said were unconstitutional, but later supported the Palace-drafted BBL after meeting with the President.

House leaders said passing the BBL was still an uphill battle.

“Passing the BBL is no joke,” Gonzales said. “This is more challenging than passing the Reproductive Health Bill.”

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