Immigration Commissioner Siegfred Mison on Tuesday belied charges reported by the Manila Times linking him to an alleged “fly-for-a-fee” racket at the commission.
The Times based its report on a complaint filed before the Office of the Ombudsman against Mison over his alleged decision to remove a Chinese national from an immigration blacklist.
Mison, during a roundtable discussion with editors and reporters of The Manila Times, clarified the story published on May 12 accusing him and seven other Immigration officers of being behind the “entry-for-a-fee, fly-for-a-fee” scam that allows undesirable aliens or those with criminal records to enter or leave the country in exchange for bribe money.
“I will never be a part of that fly-for-a-fee scheme, something that I have been trying to [eliminate]since I took over [the bureau],” Mison told the Manila Times journalists.
He calls linking him to the racket a “foul.”
The commissioner said he was not even aware that there was a complaint filed against him before the Ombudsman because of his alleged lifting from the blacklist of Yuan Jian Chua, alias Wilson Ong Cheng, a Chinese national who has been illegally staying in the country for 10 years.
Mison said he only learned of the complaint from The Times report, which was written by reporter William Depasupil, who Mison alleged might have been bribed by the “bad guys” in the bureau to write the story against him.
He claimed that a reporter from another broadsheet showed him an exchange of text messages he had with Depasupil, wherein the latter allegedly admitted to receiving money to write about the complaint.
Mison explained that the complaint, which according to the copy of the charges obtained by Depasupil was filed by Immigration intelligence officer Ricardo Cabochan on April 21, only referred to Yuan’s case and did not connect him to the alleged fly-for-a-fee racket.
Yuan was added to the immigration blacklist in November 2013 after he was arrested in Cebu City in an operation led by former Immigration head of intelligence Faisal Hussein, “who has earned his notoriety in the bureau.”
Mison said Yuan was asked to shell out P2 million by Hussein’s men but when he refused, he was arrested, added to the blacklist, and eventually deported to Xiamen, China, on January 22, 2014.
The Chinese was removed from the Immigration blacklist in November 2014 after he filed for a petition immediately upon returning to Xiamen.
His lawyer also paid the lifting fee of P150,000 and the P100,000 bond to ensure that his papers were processed right this time.
But when Yuan arrived in the country in March 2015, he was blocked by Immigration officials because as they claimed, he was still on the blacklist.
Mison also explained that this was only a computer error in the Immigration terminals because Yuan was already cleared in the bureau’s main system.
He said he had ordered that Yuan be allowed to enter the country, affirming The Times report but denied that this was connected to the alleged fly-for-a-fee scheme.
Mison lifted the ban on Yuan because he has a family here, and because the commissioner considered him an “asset” against Hussein and his group.
Hussein, the commissioner alleged, had an axe to grind against him and Justice Secretary
Leila de Lima because he was removed from office when the Justice secretary assumed her post.
Later on, Mison decided to reinstate him but to a lower post, contrary to his request to be restored as head of intelligence at the bureau.
“It [allegation]was brought about by your [The Manila Times] reporter, who I know as reliable sources told me that this guy [Hussein or Cabochan], armed with whatever he got, gave certain amount[s]to certain reporters to write stories. Some reporters did, some reporters did not,” he said.
“To others, it [lifting Yuan from the immigration blacklist]may seem irregular. [But] to me, I have all the documents to show that it was regular. I have been doing a lot of lifting, depending on the merits of the case. It’s part of my legal authority,” Mison added.
Cabochan supposedly also had an issue against Mison because he was suspended by the commissioner for being linked to an extortion case in Baguio City when he was an intelligence officer there.
He was also connected to an embezzlement case committed by his own subordinate when he was still in Baguio City.
Cabochan filed a complaint against Mison, alleging that he did not have the right to suspend him based on de Lima’s order that the commissioner was no longer authorized to discipline its employees.
De Lima later ruled that Mison’s suspension of Cabochan was legal and not covered by her order.
In a statement released on March 14, Immigration spokesperson and lawyer Elaine Tan said The Times report “is part of a smear campaign being financed by the bad guys within the BI, including a lawyer who is set to retire this year,” referring to Hussein.
Mison also told The Manila Times that upon learning that Yuan was still on the immigration blacklist, his “immediate thinking” was that the “bad guys in the bureau” found out he was coming back to Manila and they were trying to stop him from standing as witness against their scheme in Cebu City.
Tan said Yuan “voluntarily executed” an affidavit to identify the specific Immigration officials responsible for illegally apprehending foreigners.
“In all likelihood, Cabochan and his cohorts are now afraid since [Yuan’s] removal from the blacklist and subsequent admission to the country will reinforce any administrative cases to be filed against the bad guys in the bureau,” she added.
Mison already recommended to the Department of Justice the case of Hussein and Yuan’s allegations against him but de Lima said the case is still with a technical panel.
“What I can say it is, it [may]not be a part of her priorities. She has too much on her plate. When I texted her, she only said, ‘She believes in what you do,’” the commissioner said.
He added that he is confident the case against him will not prosper since he has all the proper documents to prove why he lifted the sanction against Yuan.
Mison is expecting to reply to the complaint, on which the Office of the Ombudsman will base its decision if there’s a case against him or not.
The commissioner said people behind Cabochan not only want to continue their “evil ways” in the bureau, but they also want a new commissioner.
“Somebody who will not be like me, not considered a crusader,” Mison, who admitted to knowing quite a few people who covet his post.
His personal mission to scrap the fly-for-a-fee scheme, which he knows currently exists within the bureau, led him to reassigning Immigration officers from one terminal to another without them knowing the schedule.
Mison said this move has been met with a lot of complaints among immigration officers but added that this is a way for his leadership to curb illegal activities and hopefully bring efficiency and pride to the bureau again.