FILIPINOS in California are still in a state of shock and disbelief, after waking up to the news last Wednesday. After a series of raids in the Bay Area and Sacramento, California State Senator Leland Yee was arrested on March 26 for being implicated in an alleged corruption conspiracy, which involves arms trafficking and fraud in acquiring campaign funds for his candidacy (Sen.Yee was running for CA Secretary of State).
As reported by Philippine Daily Inquirer: Sen. Leland Yee (D-San Francisco) and 25 others were named in a federal complaint charging them with firearms trafficking, money laundering, murder-for-hire, drug distribution, trafficking contraband cigarettes and honest services fraud.
Yee was released on $500,000 bail on the same day. His lawyer said the senator plans to plead not guilty to corruption and gun charges.
Many kababayans refused to believe Lee’s culpability in any of these accusations, and even publicly defended Yee’s character. They highlighted his staunch support for the Filipino community, especially in the last 12 years of his career in state politics.
As Balitang America reported, Yee fought for equal benefits for Filipino World War II veterans, as well as better working conditions for San Francisco hotel workers, who are mostly Filipinos.
Yee has also been very visible in many Filipino-American community events. On a personal note, he visited our ABS-CBN headquarters in Redwood Shores, CA to support our 24-hour fundraising telethon for the victims of Typhoon Haiyan/Yolanda.
In 2009, Yee was also one of the speakers during the awarding of the “100 Most Influential Filipina Women in America” by the Filipino Women’s Network (FWN).
The federal complaint against Yee accuses him of soliciting illegal campaign donations, in exchange for political favors and of conspiring to smuggle weapons from countries like the Philippines.
Balitang America reported that according to authorities, Yee’s first Filipino arms broker (who remains anonymous) even distributed guns to rebel groups in the Philippines.
In the affidavit, Yee was quoted as saying that he visited Mindanao two years ago, upon the invitation of Mindanao officials. He also said 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), whom he cited as having associates in the Philippines, who were “trying to overthrow the current government.”
Balitang America also reported that according to the indictment, 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.
What is ironic is the fact while Yee was reportedly trying to broker the arms deal to the undercover agent (now identified as Emmanuel V. Pascua), the senator was also in the midst of sponsoring two gun control bills in California.
As stated in the indictment, Yee reportedly also 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.”
If found guilty, Yee could face up to 20 years for each count of corruption against him. He could also be forced to pay up to $500,000 in fines.
According to Yee’s lawyer, 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 withdrew his candidacy from the California Secretary of State race last Thursday. However, he has not responded to mounting calls seeking his resignation as state senator.
This news follows another big disappointment for the Filipino-American community. Another staunch supporter, former San Diego Mayor Bob Filner, had to resign from his post as San Diego Mayor in 2013 (after being in office for less than a year) due to multiple allegations of sexual harassment. He later pleaded guilty to charges of false imprisonment and battery.
As US Representative for California’s 51st District, Filner championed the Filipino World War II veterans’ cause.
The big question now is: Will and should Leland Yee resign from office, or at the very least file a leave of absence without pay, pending the results of the investigation and trial?
The California State Senate voted last Friday to suspend Yee. He will be able to keep his annual base salary of $95,000, despite his suspension.
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Gel Santos Relos is the anchor of TFC’s “Balitang America.” Views and opinions expressed by the author in this column are are solely those of the author and not of Asian Journal and ABS-CBN-TFC. For comments, go to www.TheFil-AmPerspective.com, https://www.facebook.com/Gel.Santos.Relos