Crime lord paid BBL ‘payola’?
THE Aquino administration used funds from an alleged Chinese crime lord to raise campaign funds for the ruling Liberal Party and to guarantee the swift approval of the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL), The Standard learned Sunday.
Lawmakers received millions in hard cash from Monday to Wednesday last week, shortly after Wang Bo, who is wanted by Interpol and the Chinese government for allegedly embezzling $100 million, was ordered released by the Bureau of Immigration and Deportation, highly reliable sources said.
“Unknown to the lawmakers, the funds they are receiving from the Palace to change their votes and blindly pass the BBL came from the leader of a crime syndicate in China,” a high-ranking official at the BID, who requested anonymity, told the Manila Standard.
“The BID officials... violated the deportation order issued on March 5 upon the request of China as they reversed themselves and issued a release order on May 21 to let Wang walk, instead of turning him over to the Chinese authorities,” the official added.
But a protest by the Chinese Embassy in Manila stopped the release of Wang, who now remains in BID custody.
House Speaker Feliciano Belmonte immediately dismissed as “an absolute lie” that lawmakers were paid off to vote for the BBL.
“I will resign if anybody can prove that PNoy (President Benigno Aquino III) promised even one centavo for a BBL vote,” Belmonte told the Manila Standard.
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 immigration official said.
“Wang became a free man. They returned to him his cancelled Chinese passport and restored his status as a businessman, like he was never a fugitive from justice,” the official added.
The release order for Wang was issued even though the government was aware that his passport had been cancelled, that he was wanted by Interpol, and had a pending warrant of arrest in China for crimes that are punishable by death, the source said.
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.
The Board of Commissioners was led by BID Commissioner Siegfred Mison with Deputy Commissioners Abdullah Mangotara and Gilberto Repizo as members.
Before the May 21 board meeting, Mangutara and Repizo reportedly had a private meeting with Wang’s representative, sources said.
“In that meeting, Mangotara and Repizo hinted they were to raise funds for the President’s BBL campaign in Congress,” said the source, who was privy to the meeting.
“At least P100 million was committed for the entire BID... while some $10 million or P440 million (at P44 to a dollar) would be allocated for some 292 lawmakers. The amount for the senators was not discussed,” the BID official said.
After that meeting, Mangotara and Repizo pushed for the complete reversal of the board’s March 5 deportation order in favor of a May 21 release order.
The Chinese Embassy protested the release order and sent Police Attache Fu Yunfei to the BID and reiterated that Wang was “a fugitive from justice, an undocumented alien, involved in illegal gambling, possessed a cancelled passport, and poses a threat to public interest.”
On May 26, Fu also submitted to Justice Secretary Leila De Lima documents showing that Wang was suspected of opening casinos in transnational network gambling and is wanted by China to face the death penalty.
On May 27, De Lima issued an order to hold in abeyance the May 21 release order and to uphold the March 5 deportation order.
“I precisely ordered to hold in abeyance his release to pave the way for his eventual deportation. The board of commissioners originally ordered his summary deportation but subsequently reversed itself when it granted Wang Bo’s motion for reconsideration and directed his release from detention,” De Lima said in a text message to The Standard.
“I had to intervene so as to prevent his release. Otherwise, it would be difficult to locate him for deportation as requested by the Chinese Embassy. Now reviewing his case on appeal to DOJ,” she added.
The Chinese Embassy asserted that Wang was a threat to public interest and safety and that his passport had been cancelled.
“Wang is wanted in China with an arrest warrant for illegal gambling. Wang’s presence in the Philippines poses a risk to public interest,” the Chinese Embassy told Philippine officials.
Wang, through his counsel Dennis Manalo, denied the charges against him.
Wang has been in the country since 2008 and has been a holder of a visa since 2009.
Wang said his ELC Technology Consulting Co. Inc. is compliant with all Philippine government requirements and has been granted special incentives to operate in the Cagayan Economic Zone.
Wang was charged for allegedly being a key player in the gambling company named Skybet in Manila and was suspected of opening casinos in transnational network gambling.
Special Prosecutor Antonio Rivera said there was a presumption of truth and accuracy in the Chinese embassy’s statements about its own nationals.
“The presumption stays unless the alien submits evidence to the contrary,” Rivera said.
“Thus, the statement from the Chinese Embassy constitutes substantial evidence that respondent poses a risk to public interest, which makes him undesirable and that he is an undocumented alien,” he said.
He added that if the embassy cancels the passport of an alien, he loses the privilege to enter or remain in the country, opening him up to deportation.
Although Wang’s release was aborted, a House official who asked not to be identified said that “a truckload of money” was delivered to the House in the middle of the night on May 25.
“No wonder that on Tuesday, the 125-member House committee on appropriations and 75-member House committee on ways and means, chaired by Davao Rep. Isidro Ungab and Marikina Rep. Romero Quimbo, respectively, unanimously approved the Palace-backed BBL,” the source said.
Quimbo’s panel approved the provisions on taxations and grants in the BBL while Ungab’s panel approved the funding, including the block grant, for the Bangsamoro.
A check with the House security showed that the CCTV cameras recording the activities in the rear entrance of the House main building, where the bags of cash were purported unloaded, and the hallways and corridors leading to the Office of the Speaker, where the bags were supposedly taken, had been erased.
The House security personnel manning the CCTV operations said they had run out storage for the real time recordings. The recordings for Monday to Wednesday, a security personnel said, were overwritten.
But Belmonte said the CCTV cameras were defective the day he assumed office.
“Some were working but many were not,” he said.
A House official who spoke on condition of anonymity said the contract with the supplier of the CCTV cameras provides that real-time recordings must remain intact for six months before these can be erased.
“They erased the evidence,” the source said.
From Monday to Wednesday, Belmonte, a ranking leader of the Liberals, was busy meeting the lawmakers bloc by bloc, including the party-list groups.
As the House begins its marathon plenary debate on the BBL this Monday, party stalwarts and party whips have been at odds over the “sudden conversion” of lawmakers opposed to the passage of the BBL.
A high-ranking official of the Nationalist People’s Coalition, an ally of President Aquino, said only four of the 44 NPC members were in favor of passing the BBL last Monday.
“From four in favor on Monday, the number increased to 12 by Friday evening,” the NPC stalwart told the Manila Standard.
Another member of the 42-strong Visayan bloc, led by Bacolod City Rep. Albee Benitez, said only one was in favor of the BBL, but the number grew to five by Friday.
Benitez said the Visayan bloc will vote as a bloc despite their members’ party affiliations and official stand.
In a meeting on Tuesday, the Visayan bloc members were told to refrain from making public their individual position on the BBL issue.
Since last week, the lawmakers also found themselves getting calls from various agencies that their projects were ready for implementation.
“Except for the funds lodged with the Commission on Higher Education, the rest of the projects such as health, social welfare, infrastructure, livelihood projects, have already been released. Maybe they are withholding the CHED funds because these are for the indigent but deserving scholars and we expect to get it or not depending on our votes in the plenary by June 10 on the BBL,” a lawmaker said.