Immigration officers to be charged over Korean's escape

MANILA, Philippines – The Department of Justice (DOJ) on Thursday, December 19, ruled for the filing of criminal charges against 4 immigration officers suspected of aiding in the escape of South Korean fugitive Park Sungjun.

Blacklisted by the Bureau of Immigration (BI) and wanted for fraud by the Busan District Court, Park was able to obtain a visa and a ticket to Seoul.

Park sneaked out of the Philippines in March 2013. His departure was unrecorded in Philippine immigration documents, but he was eventually arrested upon landing in Korea.

In a statement, the DOJ said the state prosecutor, after evaluating available evidence, found "probable cause" that immigration officers facilitated the Korean's escape.

The state prosecutor ruled that BI personnel Augustus M. Cesar Morales and Ma Roselle A. Sacendoncillo be charged of bribery. They will also be charged of solicitation (under Republic Act 6713) and of persuading or influencing another public officer or allowing himself to be persuaded to do the same (under RA 3019).

Lawyers Arvin Cesar Santos and Jing Oliver Balina, both immigration officers, will also be charged in violation of RA 3019 or the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act.  

Santos and Balina will be charged of "knowingly approving or granting" Park's visa despite him not being legally entitled to it.

The prosecuter did not find weight in Balina's excuse that he only relied on the BI clearance attesting that Park had no derogatory record, as Balina previously handled the deportation case against Park.

Santos, on the other hand, has allegedly endorsed Park's visa despite receiving documents regarding the fugitive's status.

DOTC personnel charged

In addition to the 4 immigration personnel implicated, criminal charges similar to Morales' and Sacendoncillo's will also be filed against Department of Transportation and Communications (DOTC) personnel Fernando Pedrajas.

Raw CCTV footage presented by the fact-finding team of the National Bureau of Investigation support an alleged "conspiracy" by Morales, Sacendoncillo, and Pedrajas.

DOJ recommends filing of bribery, other charges against 5 Immigration officials for undocumented departure of Korean fugitive Park Sungjun. — Dept. of Justice (@DOJPH) December 19, 2013

Close ally

In President Benigno Aquino III's 4th State of the Nation Address, the immigration bureau was a subject of the President's ire for failing to "improve their watch" over ports and airports. 

"How could the escape of the Korean Park Sungjun – as blatantly seen in CCTV footage – have taken place? He is wanted in [South] Korea.... How can we face them now, when our own government employees are the ones who enabled his escape?" the President demanded.

South Korea has been a close ally of the Philippines, with most tourist arrivals in the past two years coming from the East Asian state.

Aquino III has visited South Korea 3 times in 2013 alone to attend to diplomatic talks on bilateral trade relations and defense.

The country has asked the Philippine government's help in securing the arrest and deportation of Park. 

Shortage of BI personnel

The BI has said that it is facing a shortage of personnel, with its authorized plantilla positions more than 50% less than their counterpart in the Bureau of Customs (BOC).

"We have a shortage. Just remember, for every port of entry namin sa immigration, meron din pong presence ang Bureau of Customs. Ang Bureau of Customs, 4,000 plus ang kanilang authorized plantilla items. Medyo malaki ata pong deperensiya," said BI chief Siegfred Mison.

(Just remember, for every port of entry of the immigration, the Bureau of Customs has a presence. The Bureau of Customs has 4,000 plus authorized plantilla items. The difference is quite large.)

The BOC deals with the entry and exit of items in the country; the BI, with people.

The BI has 1,208 authorized plantilla positions with almost 600 of its personnel deployed in airports. The government plans to hire 200 more personnel for the BI in 2014 to augment the shortage. –