DOJ chief wants 2 BI officials axed over extortion allegations

MANILA, -- Department of Justice (DOJ) Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II on Tuesday said that he will recommend to President Rodrigo Duterte the dismissal of two high-ranking officials of Bureau of Immigration (BI) in connection with their involvement in extorting money from online gaming operator Chinese gaming tycoon Yon Lok Lam alias 'Jack Lam'.

Aguirre said he can only recommend the relief of associate commissioners Al Argosino and Michael Robles to President Duterte since they were presidential appointees.

"I am going to recommend today to the President na for your immediate relief from your position. Because of the anti-corruption program of the government, it's better that they be relieved," Aguirre told reporters adding he will also recommend to the President the relief of other BI officials and employees who might have been involved in similar activities, which he refused to identify.

"On my part, I can only make a recommendation because I don't have the power to dismiss," he added.

Argosino and Robles were allegedly caught on video accepting money from former police chief superintendent Wally Sombero who is linked to Lam inside a casino mall in Paranaque.

Aguirre said he had seen the CCTV footage though he said he would not make an immediate judgment.

He said BI Commissioner Jaime Morente has already ordered Argosino, Robles and Acting Immigration Intelligence Chief Police Director Charles Calima Jr. to answer the allegations within 24 hours.

In response, Argosino and Robles denied the allegations as they presented to media on Tuesday PHP30 million cash, which they said is an evidence that will prove that corruption is present at the bureau.

"Right in front of you is the highest evidence of corruption of public officials," Argosino said in a press conference in Manila, pertaining to the bundles of cash.

"This is the living evidence as to why President (Rodrigo) Duterte must come out in the open, pursue corruption angle, and never allow a business entity that would thrive on paying government officials," he added.

He noted that when they received the money involved, PHP50 million is part of their continuing investigation on Jack Lam, a businessman allegedly involved in illegal gambling operations.

"So this is the evidence that there is corruption in the BI. Kung mahina hina loob namin, I can just easily say, sorry hindi ako yung nasa picture, sorry pupunta na ako sa abroad. Dala dala ko na ito. At 'yan ang pinaglalaban namin ni Dep Comm Robles when we conducted a continuing investigation on Jack Lam, at that time that we have received in custody of PHP50 million, alisin mo lang yung binawas ni Sombrero, we could have easily made arrest. But why did we not pursue it and consider this as future evidence?" Argosino explained.

A newspaper columnist alleged that two Immigration associate commissioners demanded PHP50 million in exchange for the release of 600 out of 1,316 undocumented Chinese workers.

But, Robles and Argosino only received PHP48 million with Sombero taking PHP2 million when they meet at the City of Dreams in ParaAaque City.

With this, the BI officials filed complaints for corruption of public officials and violation of anti-wiretapping law against Lam and Sombero, acting Immigration intelligence chief Charles Calima Jr. and two Chinese interpreters of the Chinese businessman before the ParaAaque City Prosecutor's Office.

Based on the complaint affidavit, they alleged that Calima took PHP18 million from the PHP48 million supposedly to be shared to Sombero, and several others.

The BI officials filed a one-month leave effective Monday.

Aguirre also said he "felt betrayed" by Argosino and Robles,who are his fraternity brothers at Lex Talionis.

"Siyempre you felt betrayed they were not following the order of the President to go after corruption," Aguirre said adding that Argosino and Robles were among the legal team of President Duterte during the presidential campaign.

Aguirre said the DOJ accepted the money for safekeeping and "without prejudice to the ongoing investigation that is being currently made by the NBI and the BI."

Source: Philippines News Agency