Palace: AFP probing California senator's gunrunning links

Posted at 03/28/14 6:58 PM

MANILA - Malacanang has no lead yet on reports that California state Senator Leland Yee is involved in firearms trafficking from the Philippines to the US, through contacts in the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP).

Deputy presidential spokesperson Abigail Valte, however, assured the public that the government is looking into it.

"There is no need for the directive. I spoke with Lieutenant Colonel Ramon Zagala this morning, and the AFP is already looking into that particular report," Valte said on Friday.

"We have also been trying to get a name or at least more information about the alleged involvement of a supposed military officer. But so far, none have turned up in the past few hours and we trust that the AFP will get to the bottom of it," she added. Because there is also concern... should it be clarified that someone from the AFP is allegedly involved."

Valte also brushed aside reports that Yee said the Philippines "is a very corrupt country" and that its government is secretly funding some Muslim rebel groups to distract the public from other state matters.

"I would not know about the basis of his opinion and, obviously, we do not share that opinion," she said.

Yee, who was arrested in San Francisco on Wednesday, reportedly told an undercover FBI agent that he was unhappy with his life and that he "wants to be a free agent" and "hide out in the Philippines."

These statements from Yee were cited in indictment documents.

He was arrested on corruption charges and was released from jail the same day.

A federal complaint against Yee accuses him of soliciting illegal campaign donations in exchange for political favors and conspiring to smuggle weapons from countries like the Philippines.

Yee's lawyer said the senator plans to plead not guilty to six charges of public corruption and one count of conspiring to sell guns without a license.

Yee reportedly sought to raise money for his campaign by promising to help undercover agents get illegal guns from various arms dealers in the Philippines.

Authorities said his first Filipino arms broker, who remains anonymous, even distributed guns to rebel groups in the Philippines.

In an affidavit, Yee was quoted as saying that he visited Mindanao two years ago, upon the invitation of Mindanao officials. He added that he was surrounded by people who had high-powered guns.

Yee also reportedly tapped a contact, a Filipino from Daly City named Dr. Wilson Lim, who he cited as having associates in the Philippines who were "trying to overthrow the current government".

The indictment said Lim's nephew was the contact for the weapons deal and that a captain in the Philippine military was to provide the weapons.

The weapons would be shipped to Manila or to the Port of Cagayan de Oro, and then shipped again to various countries.

The same year Yee was reportedly trying to broker the arms deal to the undercover agent, now identified as Emmanuel V. Pascua, Yee actually sponsored a pair of gun control bills in California.

If found guilty, Yee could face up to 20 years for each count of corruption against him and could be forced to pay up to half a million dollars in fines. - with a report from Henni Espinosa, ABS-CBN North America News Bureau