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Raiding Fontana

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PUBLIC OUTRAGE exploded over the news of the Tuesday evening raid at the Fontana Leisure Park in the Clark Freeport that uncovered a makeshift pharmacy and hospital exclusive to Chinese Covid-19 patients in one of the villas.

The impact of the incident to the greater community readily gauged in the reaction to Punto’s story of the raid: Uploaded online Wednesday mid-morning, already registering, as of 9:23 a.m. Thursday, 1.2K shares and 22,075 hits.

The Clark Development Corp. that administers the freeport immediately ordered the closure and full lockdown of Fontana, ensuring its order executed with the full force of the law by its own security force in full battle gear at Fontana’s shut down gates.

“Aside from the operators who are now facing criminal charges, the CDC will also hold into account the management of Fontana for allowing this to happen within their property,” the CDC said in a statementVowing: We assure Clark stakeholders, the locators, local communities and residents especially, that we will not stop until all those involved are prosecuted and punished.

Déjà vu triggered in me by CDC there. Fontana rising from the mist of not so remote a memory as yet yes, of a raid too, indeed of Chinese involvement. Aye, in this very corner, Dec. 1, 2016, same headline Raiding Fontana, thus:

ALL LEGIT. No Chinese illegal in Clark raid.

So headlined the Philippine Daily Inquirer of the raid on the Fontana Leisure Park at the Clark Freeport on Nov. 25 by the Bureau of Immigration where, it said, 912 Chinese were found working.

At the Fontana Food Center where they were herded for verification and investigation by immigration officials, “All of the 912 foreign nationals … presented documents or passports for verification … to prove the legality of their stay here in the country. Their individual biometrics were also being taken as part of the procedure.” So Mabalacat City police chief Supt. Juritz Rara was quoted by the PDI story as saying.

End of story? Not quite.

The day the PDI story came out, Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre was on ABSCBN saying that the 1,318 Chinese nationals rounded up at Fontana will all be charged for violation of their visas.

Quite some conflicting statements there already. One – the number of those “taken in.” The police chief saying 912, the justice secretary saying 1,318. Or a difference of 406 warm bodies. Two – the police chief saying all of those “arrested” were verified to be in the country legally. The justice secretary ordering the filing of appropriate charges against them for visa violations.

Come now, since when did a city police chief become spokesperson for matters of immigration? There is just much, too much, at stake here to be left to a city cop chief.

Aguirre himself – in that ABS-CBN interview – disclosed reports of offers of up to P250,000 per head for what has long been euphemized as “facilitation fees” to make legal the illegal.

For the record, BI spokesperson Atty. Antonette B. Mangrobang said that as of Tuesday, only 99 of the Chinese nationals have undergone inquest investigation because of the sheer number of those who were arrested.

She said the BI is still verifying and validating the immigration status of the others and will charge the Chinese nationals for violation of their visas for engaging in online gaming. She also said the overstaying Chinese will be deported while summary deportation proceedings will be made to those who engaged in online gaming.

Netizens had a field day with the Fontana raid.

“Here’s the reason why there are always no villas available, even to members,” said one

Yes, now we know that those villas have been transformed into call centers and online gambling stations, employing exclusively Chinese nationals.

One Elpidio Que commented: “Chinese gambling lord Jack Lam runs the Fort Ilocandia Casino in Laoag and Fontana Casino in Clark legally, but operates an on-line casino illegally in Fontana.”

It looks precisely that now with Aguirre’s disclosures.

Come to think of it, there’s nothing new to this Fontana raid by government authorities and finding illegal foreign workers there. Raids, mostly by operatives of the NBI, have become so routine that many times they merited little, if any, space in newspapers or broadcast time. The fate of those arrested almost always buried in succeeding bigger stories. Na-areglo, in street lingo. Which has led jaded newsmen and observers to unkind speculations on the real intent and purpose of those raids.

This last one coming into the season of merriment and gift-giving added more malice to it. Baka naman maagang namamasko o nagkacaroling lang.

Let us wait for Aguirre to see through these, all the way to China for these illegals

Meanwhile, the Clark Development Corp., freeport administrator, said it “is hoping for a speedy resolution of the (BI’s) investigation.”

CDC, as a government agency, is supporting any drive to curb any illegal activities. It has always been an active partner in inter-agency coordination and has espoused cooperation among its stakeholders in the Freeport,” a short statement said. “We are confident that all locators will continue to abide by existing labor and immigration laws.”

Pardon, but that confidence of yours is not enough.

CDC is duty-bound to take a more proactive role in making sure that its locators toe the legal line, being a principal party in all those contracts signed at the freeport.

But then, can the present CDC management do so without fear of falling into disfavor with the Force actually governing the Freeport?

OBVIOUSLY, CDC could not and did not.

Hence, this last raid where not only matters of immigration and illegal business operations but moreso the health, aye, the very life of the Filipino is put at stake!

So, until the next Fontana raid, folks. Here’s keeping our fingers crossed.

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