By: Nelson S. Badilla
SENATOR Leila de Lima was armed with malice against President Rodrigo Duterte when she told the media that for more than 100 days only in office, there was already corruption at the Bureau of Immigration (BI) worth P50 Million.
De Lima took the P50 Million scandal obviously not to expose the continued corruption at the BI, but assail Duterte and make it appear that the President has something to do with the occurrence of bribery, graft and corruption at the BI given the fact that those who involved were Duterte’s fraternity brothers at San Beda College of Law.
The neophyte senator should know that bribery, graft and corruption in BI is deep, wide, and systematic in fact.
She must remember that few months before the 2016 elections, Wang Bo, a Chinese national detained in Philippines for $100 Million case of embezzlement, was reported to the media that he bribed BI officials, including Commissioner Siegfred Mison.
Mison, Associate Commissioners Abdulah Mangatara and Gilbert Repizo vehemently denied the accusations.
Reports said Wang bribed the three for them to stop his deportation to China.
There was also report that some lawmakers took millions from Wang in order to finance the bribery plan of the Aquino administration on lawmakers in exchange of the approval of the Bangsa Moro proposed act.
Upon learning the scandal, then Justice Sec. De Lima ordered an independent investigation on the issue.
De Lima denied that she gained from Wang’s bribery.
She also should not forget that the Bureau of Correction (Bucor) and the New Bilibid Prison (NBP) have been scandalized during her term as secretary of the Department of Justice (DOJ) due to series of drug money that reportedly financed her campaign kitty for her senatorial bid.
De Lima extremely denied the accusations.
Even the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI), which is under the DOJ, has a history of extortion, graft and corruption.
Thus, Senator De Lima must not threat the P50 Million bribery scandal of the camp of Jack Lam to then BI Associate Commissioners Al Argosino and Michael Robles as an isolated and special case.
The P50 Million was for the purpose of allowing the BI to free the over 1,000 Chinese nationals who were arrested by the BI operatives at the Fontana Casino and Leisure.
Retired police officer Wenceslao “Wally” Sombero, representative of Lam, told Senate hearing that one of the two commissioners wanted an additional P50 Million because many middle-level officials were waiting for their share.
Sombero refused since Lam protested about the amount.
He admitted in the same Senate hearing, Lam has already released P60 Million ‘goodwill money’ allotted to the BI officials.
He only gave P50 Million to Argosino and Robles.
The two gave Sombero P2 Millon, while P18 Million went to BI Chef Intelligence Charles Calima Jr., also a retired police officer.
So, Sombero has P12 Million ‘commission.’
Like Argosino and Robles, Calima argued that the P18 Million were physical evidence in an extortion case he was preparing against the two officials.
Argosino and Robles also asserted in the Senate hearing that the P30 Million they got from Sombero were evidence for the criminal charges they would file against Calima and Sombero.
The extent of extortion, graft and corruption at the BI is also known to Andrea Domingo, chairman of the Philippine Gaming Corporation (Pagcor), since she herself became BI commissioner.
As former BI Commissioner, Domingo also encountered the prevalence of graft and corruption in the BI.
Domingo discovered various schemes of corruption, including human trafficking, but she did not reveal all these things when the Senate held an investigation in 1991.
She focused on the supposed unfair overtime pay when in fact this was not the area where BI officials gained so much.
In 1997, then Senator Nikki Coseteng exposed in the Senate about the existence of a syndicate in the BI.
The syndicate in the BI was engaged in human trafficking where they earned as high as P300,000 for every Chinese or Indian national they managed to enter to the Philippines even without proper and legal documents.
This was perhaps the reason why the camp of Lam has released as P60 Million to Sombero to bribe BI officials in exchange of the freedom of more than Chinese nationals who were arrested at the Fontana by the BI operatives last year.
The Senate probe about extortion by BI officials was not the first time to happen.
It happened when feisty Quezon City Regional Trial Court Judge Miriam Defensor Santiago was appointed by then President Corazon Aquino to head the BI.
Santiago launched an anti-corruption in the BI, but she was not actually that successful contrary to what was projected in the media.
After she was removed from the BI, extortion and corruption in this agency remained prevalent.
The problem with the Senate probe is that the Congress never came up with new law on how to end extortion and corruption at the BI.
The Congress even failed to amend the Immigration Act of 1940.
The question now is what will happen to this latest drama in the Senate where some senators who were extremely mad at BI officials grilled and humiliated these supposed corrupt officials?
Would it be the last Senate probe to end the prevalence of extortion, graft, and corruption at the BI?