Senate recommends bribery, plunder charges vs ex-immigration officials

MANILA, Philippines – The Senate on Tuesday, March 20, recommended the filing of bribery and plunder charges against two former Bureau of Immigration (BI) commissioners involved in the Jack Lam controversy.

The Senate blue ribbon committee report, which the chamber adopted, said former BI commissioners Al Argosino and Michael Robles, as well as BI intelligence officer Charles Calima, should be charged with direct bribery.

It also said that Argosino and Robles are liable for plunder for receiving P50 million from Lam through the Chinese tycoon's associate, Wally Sombero. Republic Act (RA) No. 7659 states that the minimum amount of illegally acquired wealth to qualify as plunder is P50 million.

"It cannot be imagined that they didn't know that money was going to change hands. They, considering their busy schedules and high standing in the bureaucracy, were made to wait, and willingly waited for 7 hours until the wee hours, because they knew that there was something substantial to be waited for," states the report, prepared by Senator Richard Gordon, chairman of the Senate blue ribbon committee.

"Mr Robles even brought his brother to the [City of Dreams] because he knew that they would need manpower to carry what they were waiting for," the report also states, adding that P50 million in P1,000 bills could have weighed "about a hundred pounds."

During deliberations on the 2018 Department of Justice (DOJ) budget, it was revealed that Argosino and Robles tried to skirt the plunder law through a missing P1,000 bill from the retrieved P50-million bribe money.

Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II earlier told senators that the total amount returned was P49,999,000.

Despite this attempt, the Ombudsman indicted the two former BI commissioners for plunder, a non-bailable offense.

The report warned those "setting up a farce or making a vulgar and cheap attempt" at reducing the charges against the two.

Aside from plunder, the Senate also recommended the filing of charges for violation of RA 3019 or the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act against the two.

Argosino and Robles are fraternity brothers of Aguirre and President Rodrigo Duterte in the San Beda College of Law-based Lex Talionis fraternity.

The Senate also recommended that Sombero be charged with plunder and corruption of public officials under Article 12 of the Revised Penal Code. – Rappler.com

Camille Elemia

Camille Elemia is Rappler's lead reporter for media, disinformation, and democracy. She won an ILO award in 2017. She received the prestigious Fulbright-Hubert Humphrey fellowship in 2019, allowing her to further study media and politics in the US. Email camille.elemia@rappler.com

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