Exiting BI chief facing raps for Korean fugitive’s escape attempts
MANILA, Philippines — Amid his expected departure from office, Immigration Commissioner Siegfred Mison is facing administrative charges for the repeated escape of a Korean fugitive from detention 22 days apart in 2015, a report that comes just as his alleged involvement in irregular activities within the Bureau of Immigration (BI) is known to have reached President Aquino.
The National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) has found Mison liable for grave misconduct for allowing the “illegal” detention of Korean Cho Seongdae in a poorly secured room within the Intelligence Service of the Armed Forces Compound (ISAFP) at the military headquarters in Camp Aguinaldo, a transfer that led to his second escape from custody on Oct. 21.
“Commissioner Mison’s administrative lapses results in grave misconduct,” read the 21-page report.
Cho, who is tagged in human trafficking and extortion activities, was transferred to ISAFP on Oct. 10, eleven days after he fled the Bureau of Immigration Warden Facility (BIWF) in Bicutan, Taguig City (Sept. 29) through an alleged P1-million payoff to immigration officers.
The Korean has been detained at the NBI headquarters in Manila since rearrested by BI and ISAFP operatives in Pagsanjan town in Laguna on Nov. 1.
His first fled on Sept. 29, when he was able to leave the BIWF in an escape allegedly arranged with BI personnel by a Korean friend.
Cho, also facing criminal cases in his homeland Korea, was arrested on Aug. 7 in an entrapment operation. He was placed under BI custody on Sept. 11.
In its final report submitted to the Department of Justice in December, the NBI also found 17 Bureau of Immigration (BI) and ISAFP guards and officers liable for criminal and administrative charges for Seongdae’s back-to-back escapes, citing their negligence, lapses and refusal to fully cooperate with the investigation.
The report, forwarded by NBI Director Virgilio Mendez to the DOJ on Dec. 11, cited Mison’s lapses in allowing Cho’s detention at a military facility despite the lack of legal basis.
“In the absence of a written order or even assuming in the presence of a written order of Commissioner Mison, the transfer of Mr. Cho from the BIWF to ISAFP compound is with Commission Mison’s knowledge and consent,” read the report.
The NBI hit Mison’s resort to a facility outside the BI’s mother agency, the Department of Justice (DOJ), saying this breached protocol.
“Assuming arguendo that BI has no facility to secure Mr. Cho, BI through Commissioner Mison, it could have addressed the concern to its mother agency, the DOJ, which has other constituent agencies, the Bureau of Corrections or the NBI, which could have facilitated to resolve the issue,” the report said.
“Needless to state, BI, a constituent unit of the DOJ, decided on its own, disregarding protocol, and detained Mr. Cho at the ISAFP compound, which is under the Department of National Defense (DND),” the NBI said.
The BI and ISAFP signed in April 2015 a Memorandum of Understanding for joint training and intelligence sharing, concerning foreigners “engaged in activities inimical to national security.”
But the NBI has noted the document does not provide for the detention of foreigners at the military compound.
“The transfer of Mr. Cho from the BIWF to ISAFP compound after his apprenshion is unauthorized and has no legal basis. The MOU between ISAFP and BIWF does not state that he could be detained at ISAFP Compound,” the NBI said.
“There is no provision governing the temporary detention of foreign fugitives at the ISAFP compound,” the report read.
The NBI also cited Mison’s liability for failing to ensure that Cho’s holding facility at the ISAFP compound was indeed a secure one. The bureau found out that Cho was in fact held at a former office, not a jail cell, with a “weak spot”: that is an empty airconditioner slot covered only by plywood.
Cho, who was loosely handcuffed throughout the time of his detention at ISAFP, escaped through such opening at 1 a.m.of Oct. 2. He walked a kilometer, climbed up the perimeter fence of the military camp and found a tree on the other side that allowed him to climb down to freedom.
“The same observations as regards physical security at the ISAFP compound should be attrbuted to Mison. Mison should have known the situation considering that he even visited Mr. Cho while the latter was detained at ISAFP,” the report read.
The NBI said Mison also visited Cho at the NBI jail on Nov. 4.
The report came to light just as Mison’s alleged involvement in “highly illegal, irregular and anomalous activities” has reached the President, according to highly placed sources.
Among allegations filed against Mison include the questionable release of undocumented Chinese national Fu Gaofeng in March 2015, the unauthorized withdrawal of P1.575 million in overtime pay from the BI’s Express Lane Trust Fund, the facilitation of the entry of blacklisted foreigners for a fee, and the questionable lifting of hold departure and exclusion orders against foreigners facing criminal charges.
The NBI further cited how the BI “has not fully cooperated in the investigation,” only giving “piecemeal compliance” with the DOJ’s orders for it to submit documents requested by the NBI.
The ISAFP has also been less than cooperative, said the NBI, as it has shunned repeated written requests for the submission of “sensitive documents” relevant to the Cho case.
The NBI noted security lapses of ISAFP personnel in keeping custody of Cho, considering the kind of room chosen to serve as his detention cell. It said the ISAFP “mishandled the detention of Mr. Cho” as he was placed in a former office, not an actual jail cell.
“It is quite absurd that a detainee with Mr Choi’s reputation of escaping… his captors would be confined in a small office. ISAFP leadership should have secured it since they knew all along that the same was inadequate to house a prisoner. ISAFP officials should have taken all the necessary measures needed to secure Mr. Cho,” the NBI report said.
The NBI likewise called out ISAFP officials for the “lack of transparency” in Cho’s detention,” which “gives rise to the presumption that his detention then was irregular.”
The military’s intelligence arm, the report said, also gave the NBI the runaround when it attempted several times but failed to schedule an ocular inspection of Cho’s detention facility at ISAFP. The latter only made an “eleventh hour invitation” just a little more than a week before Christmas, when the NBI team was already wrapping up its investigation.
Apart from Mison, several BI and military personnel are facing criminal and administrative charges for Cho’s twin escapes
Facing liability for Cho’s escape from the BIWF are BI guards guards Lacman Sulay, Pedro Bulawit, Michael Medrano, Ricky Dordas and Allan Pandapatan for administrative charges of neglect of duty and criminal charges of evasion through negligence.
The latter offense under Article 224 of the revised penal code penalizes a public officer under whose watch a prisoner escapes custody.
Also facing charges of neglect of duty are members of another team of BIWF guards Ryan de Castro, Crisanto Arquio, Marcos Marzan, Genaro Doropes, Emer Bongoan and their superior official, BIWF Warden L’Rev Dela Cruz.
For Cho’s escape from the ISAFP compound, BI guards Jared Castillo and Juanito Nacario, along with ISAFP officers Rene Almazan, Joaquin Mendoza and Richard Medina are facing criminal charges of evastion through negligence.
BI guard Juan Rafael Ortega is meanwhile facing administrative liability for grave misconduct for abandoning Cho’s ISAFP detention facility within the time he was supposed to be on duty.
The NBI also recommended for the DOJ to bring to Malacanang’s and the DND’s attention ISAFP’s “reluctance to cooperate in the investigation on the grounds of national security,” saying Cho’s case was one concerning “a petty criminal from South Korea awaiting deportation.” SFM
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