Leila de Lima

Mayor Guo may be arrested for violating immigration rules, says De Lima

Jairo Bolledo

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Mayor Guo may be arrested for violating immigration rules, says De Lima

HOT SEAT. Mayor Alice Leal Guo answers questions from senators during the continuation of the public hearing on the raided Philippine offshore gaming operator facility in Bamban, Tarlac, on May 22, 2024.

Angie de Silva/Rappler

Former justice secretary Leila de Lima is suggesting an easier legal route compared to a criminal complaint, where authorities will have to wait for the case to reach the court before a warrant can be issued

MANILA, Philippines – Bamban, Tarlac Mayor Alice Guo may be arrested by the Bureau of Immigration (BI) for violating immigration rules, former justice secretary and senator Leila de Lima said.

De Lima had supervisory control of the BI back when she was secretary of the Department of Justice (DOJ). In a statement on Friday, June 28, the lawyer said the immediate legal remedy against Guo was for immigration authorities to arrest and detain her for “serious violations” of visa conditions.

After arrest, the mayor may be detained under the BI’s custody pending the criminal complaint against her.

“The DOJ should just treat this, initially, as a simple immigration case, where a legal warrantless arrest on Guo can be enforced for violation of immigration laws instead of still waiting for the filing of criminal cases against her with the courts before a warrant of arrest can be served on her,” the former senator explained.

What De Lima was suggesting was the easier route to deal with Guo’s case. It was simpler because when foreigners violate immigration rules, they may be arrested by the BI and detained as the immigration bureau processes the case. A criminal complaint is much more complex because the complaint should reach the court first before the tribunal can issue a warrant if it finds enough reason to do so.

The complaint against Guo for qualified trafficking was just filed, and filing a complaint is among the first steps in criminal procedure. Prosecutors would need to find enough reason to indict the mayor and elevate the case to the court. Only then would the issuance of a warrant of arrest be possible.

On the possibility of deportation, Guo cannot be deported back to her country of origin yet because, under immigration rules, foreigners cannot leave the Philippines if they have pending complaints or cases in the country. In the event that Guo is proven guilty of her alleged crime, she will be jailed in the Philippines and can only return to her country of origin after her sentence.

“The DOJ and other relevant agencies should take a proactive stance in dealing with Chinese criminal syndicates in our midst and energetically enforce our immigration laws against them in order to stop their illegal activities. Our national security is at stake,” De Lima said.

Sapat ang ating mga batas sa immigration para habulin ang mga Chinese criminal syndicates. Kailangan lamang itong gamitin at ipatupad nang tapat at masigasig (Our immigration laws are sufficient to go after Chinese criminal syndicates. We just need to use them and implement them with honesty and eagerness),” she added.

Guo, who is currently suspended, is in hot water due to her alleged ties to Philippine offshore gaming operator (POGO) Zun Yuan Technology inside the Baofu compound, which was raided in February 2023. She currently faces a qualified trafficking complaint, along with 13 others, over allegations of human trafficking in the raided POGO. On top of this, she also faces graft and administrative complaints pending before the Office of the Ombudsman.

The mayor’s nationality was also under deep scrutiny. Guo’s citizenship was first questioned during Senate hearings, where opposition Senator Risa Hontiveros raised the question of whether Guo was an “asset” planted by China to infiltrate local politics. The mayor also claimed in one of the public hearings that she couldn’t remember basic details about her life.

Earlier this week, the National Bureau of Investigation confirmed that the fingerprints of Guo and Guo Hua Ping, the Chinese woman suspected to be her true identity, had matched. This is evidence against the local official, which could be used to prove that she may be Chinese and not Filipino.

The Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA) also announced this week that it had moved to cancel Guo’s certificate of live birth. If approved, Guo would lose her Filipino citizenship. The PSA noted the “irregularity of the process” of her delayed birth registration as reason for the move.

Will Guo be removed from office?

The Office of the Solicitor General, through quo warranto, had launched a probe to determine if there was good reason to believe that Guo was “unlawfully holding or exercising public office.” A quo warranto petition can remove officials, like the one used to oust former chief justice Maria Lourdes Sereno.

Hontiveros said the NBI’s findings that Guo and Guo Hua Ping were the same person was a strong evidence to remove the mayor from her post.

Solicitor General Menardo Guevarra also said the NBI evidence would be “extremely useful” for their probe. Guevarra said the new evidence could expedite their investigation, adding that they were eyeing to file the petition within July.

For De Lima, quo warranto would not be necessary once Guo is detained by the BI for violating immigration rules.

“It would also be then unnecessary to still file a quo warranto case against her if the purpose solely is to put her immediately under preventive detention and stop her from performing her spurious position as mayor of Bamban after the lapse of her current preventive suspension period,” the former DOJ chief said. – Rappler.com

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Jairo Bolledo

Jairo Bolledo is a multimedia reporter at Rappler covering justice, police, and crime.