WATCH | Senators: ex-BI officials' story on alleged P50-M bribe 'hard to believe'
MANILA - (UPDATED W/VIDEO) Senators on Monday expressed disbelief over claims of two ex-officials of the Bureau of Immigration (BI) that they refused the P50 million bribe from Macau-based gaming tycoon Jack Lam through his middleman, retired police senior supt. Wally Sombero Jr., but kept it anyway "as evidence".
During the Senate inquiry into the alleged BI bribery scandal, ex-BI associate commissioners lawyers Al Argosino and Michael Robles admitted that they brought home paper bags which contained millions of cash but insisted that they actually “refused” the bribe.
Asked by Senate Blue Ribbon Committee chair Sen. Richard “Dick” Gordon if Argosino kept the paper bags, the latter said that he only kept them as evidence.
Before the alleged bribe took place, Argosino recalled how he and Robles met Sombero in the City of Dreams Manila last Nov. 26, 2016 after the retired cop asked to discuss Lam’s case.
Lam owns an online casino called Fontana Leisure Parks and Casino in Clark, Pampanga, which employs Chinese nationals illegally working in the country. The workers were later arrested on Nov. 24, 2016.
Argosino said he noticed Sombero had two paper bags with him and asked what they were for, with an inkling it was a bribe. By the time they parted ways nearly seven hours later, there were already five paper bags.
Argosino and Robles later decided to keep the paper bags as part of their efforts to investigate Lam.
Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II, who was also present in the hearing, said that he was also approached by Sombero who tried to “impress him” and show him that Lam could give him “whatever he wanted”.
Lam through Sombero requested Aguirre to allow the release of the 1,316 Chinese workers and vowed to pay back accountabilities with government and to secure a license from the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corporation (PAGCOR). Aguirre, however, rejected their intentions.
Sen. Francis “Kiko” Pangilinan said that it was “hard to believe” that they just waited for Sombero to arrive instead of just leaving the paper bags in the restaurant if they truly refused the bribe.
Meanwhile, Sen. Risa Hontiveros, demanded to know why Argosino and Robles decided to bring the paper bags to their homes instead of in the BI headquarters.
Sen. Leila de Lima asked former Immigration intelligence chief retired Police Director Charles T. Calima why he did not immediately inform Aguirre about their counter intelligence operations to expose the two ex-BI officials. Calima replied that their report was not yet complete.
Calima was reportedly tipped off by Sombero that there were CCTV recordings and photographs of the two ex-BI officials receiving the bribe.
Sen. Joel Villanueva said that he was “disgusted” by how Argosino withheld information from him during an earlier Senate panel hearing on the arrest of illegal Chinese workers in Pampanga he chaired last Dec. 7, 2016.
Villanueva stressed that Argosino established that the Chinese workers were there illegally yet did not disclose about the bribery that happened.
The neophyte senator said that because of this, he considered filing contempt charges against Argosino and believed he was liable for perjury for withholding information in the Senate.
Lam was not present during the hearing. Meanwhile, Sombero was in Singapore to seek medical treatment and will return to the country this week, his legal counsel said.
Also present in the hearing were BI Commissioner Jaime Morente, PAGCOR Associate Vice President Arnell Ignacio, officials from the Philippine National Police, among others.
Trillanes: Aguirre not innocent
For Sen. Antonio Trillanes IV, his reading of the events was different.
“All this time, alam niya yung transaksyon at baka … baka kaya siya naglabas sa media ay dahil nagkabukuhan na [he (Aguirre) knew of the transaction and maybe… maybe that is why he came out in the media because the plot was revealed],” Trillanes said.
Trillanes was not convinced that Aguirre was not involved in the bribery scandal.
In an interview after the hearing, Trillanes said, “Maraming katanungan sa possible involvement ni Aguirre sa bribery scandal. Mahirap maipaliwang ni Secretary Aguirre kung bakit siya nakipag-meeting sa mga salarin. Binilin niya kay Argosino na siya na ang bahala. Tapos 12 hours after, nagkapalitan na ng pera [There are questions about the possible involvement of Aguirre in the bribery scandal. It’s hard to explain why he met with the culprits. He had told Argosino to take care of the matter. Then, 12 hours after, money changed hands].”
The hearing will resume on February 7.