POSTSCRIPT / December 17, 2015 / Thursday

By FEDERICO D. PASCUAL JR.

Opinion Columnist

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DoJ order reignites immigration turf war

THE TANIM-BALA scandal still far from settled, a new turf war is adding to the confusion at the immigration bureau and premier airports with an associate commissioner having been vested powers reserved for Immigration Commissioner Siegfred Mison.

Taking off from Department Order 911 issued by Justice Secretary Alfredo Benjamin Caguioa last Nov. 23, associate commissioner Gilberto Repizo has assumed some powers of Mison and started replacing border control personnel at the Ninoy Aquino and the Clark international airports.

Some airport insiders not only question the legality of the shuffle but also talk of NAIA and Clark airports being again “open for business,” alluding to the positioning of some 30 favored officers as part of an alleged election fund-raising campaign.

Concerned personnel expressed alarm that BI supervisors with numerous pending administrative cases are now being placed in charge of sensitive NAIA and CIA immigration operations.

Some of the replacement staff were reportedly linked to a syndicate preying on Overseas Filipino Workers and foreigners in the BI exclusion lists and who had been already “neutralized” by the bureau’s anti-graft, anti-syndicate campaign.

Some of those with derogatory records have since been placed where they could do the least harm, but they have now been resurrected. A number even come from divisions not directly connected with or knowledgeable about border control.

Insiders recall that the syndicate working the premier airports once raked in an estimated minimum of P200,000 per day or P6 million per month before they were disbanded in a cleanup by Commissioners Ricardo David Jr. and Mison.

Money was reportedly being extorted from just about everybody who wanted to enter the country in spite of their being excluded or having been fugitives from their home country.

An example was Chinese gambling lord Wang Bo who sought haven in the Philippines allegedly by bribing some BI officials. Mison pressed for his deportation, but Wang Bo’s camp cooked up all legal excuses to prevent his expulsion.

The new reassignment of key border control personnel was on order of associate commissioner Repizo, who sources said happened to have authored the controversial BI resolution allowing the undesirable alien Wang Bo to stay.

Legality of Caguioa’s order questioned

IMMIGRATION personnel are wondering if Secretary Caguioa is aware of Repizo’s shuffle order.

Most likely, say sources. It was Caguioa himself who signed DO 911 authorizing associate commissioner Repizo to assume the powers of the sitting and incumbent bureau commissioner. The controversial order gave Repizo the power of:

“(a) exclusive and direct supervision and control over all personnel directly or indirectly connected with border control operations of all the ports in the country, including, among others, the regular employees, confidential agents, contractual employees, and job order employees of the Intelligence Division, the Counter Intelligence Unit, the Border Management Security Unit and the Travel Control Enforcement unit.

(b) exclusive authority to issue exclusion orders.”

Two Ateneo professors teaching administrative law, meanwhile, have opined that DO 911 is “illegal” and “unconstitutional”.

They pointed out that current Immigration Law (CA 613) grants the powers cited above only to the Bureau Commissioner (Mison at the moment) — which powers were taken away in the DO 911 issued and signed by Caguioa.

Under CA 613, they added, exclusion orders are decided by the immigration inspectors and reviewed upon by a Board of Inquiry. But Caguioa’s DO 911 grants such powers to one specific associate commissioner who is Repizo.

It has been pointed out also that recalls of exclusion orders are not within the jurisdiction of the Board of Commissioners. Under Section 29 of CA 613, this responsibility is given only to the immigration commissioner.

However DO 911 has given this power to recall to the Board — a clear contravention of an obsolete but still applicable Commonwealth Act.

It is now being asked if a mere department order can supersede legislation. Obviously not! What Caguioa has signed appears to be an illegal order, according to some lawyers — and what Repizo has done looks like usurpation of authority.

As justice secretary, Caguioa has the power to supervise the official acts of the immigration commissioner, but may not have the power to reduce the powers yet to be exercised by the commissioner given by law.

Can a mere member of the President’s Cabinet simply arrogate unto himself powers which are not delegated to him by Congress?

Is Justice Secretary Caguioa not aware of such legal points? If not, it is unfortunate, given that his name has been included, and he is even considered as a front runner, in the list of candidates for the position of an honorable justice of the Supreme Court.

But one source has told us that she has proof that it was Repizo, not Caguioa, who actually authored DO 911 and that the justice secretary was just made to sign it.

The same source also said that several people close to Repizo already told and even threatened the incumbent immigration commissioner of “several things, one of them that he will be charged with multiple cases before the Ombudsman or be fired from office, if he does not voluntarily resign and let these things happen.”

Sources said the main reason why the incumbent commissioner is being pressured to resign is that he is not willing to use the bureau in the fund-raising for the 2016 election campaign.

(First published in the Philippine STAR of December 17, 2015)

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