MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) - Justice Secretary Leila de Lima stopped the deportation on Wednesday of 291 Taiwanese wanted by authorities in their home country for their involvement in large-scale cyber crime, sources told ABS-CBNnews.com
In a move that may lead to a diplomatic spat with Taiwan, ABS-CBNnews.com sources said de Lima snubbed a request for the deportation of the foreigners, who were among those arrested last August 23 during a crackdown on international syndicates victimizing residents of Taiwan and mainland China.
Also arrested were 86 Chinese and one from New Zealand. They are currently detained at a gymnasium inside Camp General Vicente Lim in Canlubang, Laguna.
Pre-deportation procedures were immediately made as a result of the law enforcement cooperation between Philippines and Taiwan. However, the two chartered flights scheduled at 7:00 Wednesday morning, as arranged by the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office (TECO), did not push through.
De Lima apparently made the move only after President Aquino rebuked the Bureau of Immigration during the agency’s anniversary on Tuesday. The Bureau of Immigration is under the jurisdiction of the Department of Justice (DOJ).
Aquino questioned how the foreigners were able to enter the country in the first place.
“May nahuli na po tayo noong 2010 na apatnapu’t dalawang dayuhang Tsino na sangkot din sa kaparehong krimen. Nagkaroon pa nga po tayo ng malaking isyung diplomatiko ukol rito. Pero imbes na masugpo ang sindikato, lalo pa silang dumami. Mukhang tuwang-tuwa pa sila sa klase ng paghihigpit na ating ipinapatupad," Aquino said on Tuesday.
'Prudent to deport'
ABS-CBNnews.com called De Lima for comment, but as of posting, she has yet to respond.
In a text message, Immigration spokesperson Ma. Antonette Mangrobang confirmed that the scheduled flight did not push through today. "DOJ re-examined the possible criminal liability of the Taiwanese here in the country. We are waiting for further orders from our Secretary."
The foreigners were charged for being undocumented and undesirable aliens under Philippine laws. The charges bolstered the deportation procedures.
However, instead of backing the deportation, sources said de Lima is now looking into the possibility of pressing charges against the suspects and holding them longer in the country.
However, there are not enough laws in the country to deal with cyber crimes. The DOJ already filed against them a case for violation of the Access Device Regulation Act, but this is considered a minor crime and a bailable offense.
ABS-CBNnews.com sources said it would be more prudent if the foreigners were deported so that they can face charges already filed by their victims in Taiwan.
Authorities also cited health reasons for the suspects’ immediate deportation.
Respiratory problems are now affecting the detainees, aggravated by fumigation activities to combat a dengue epidemic. Logistics-wise, authorities said the makeshift detention cell – a mere gymnasium – cannot house the suspects on a long-term basis.
One of the Taiwanese suspects died last September 9 due to dengue fever. Two others have also been hospitalized.
The same health concern also prompted Taiwan to immediately arrange the deportation proceedings. The Chinese and New Zealand governments are also reportedly taking this problem seriously.