The recent filing of plunder charges against two former Bureau of Immigration (BI) officials by the Ombudsman is a welcome development in exposing corruption under the Duterte administration, Opposition Senator Leila M. de Lima has said.
Aside from ex BI commissioners Al Argosino and Michael Robles, De Lima however added she believes that there are other higher officials who are involved in the alleged extortion of P50 million from Macau-based gambling tycoon Jack Lam in 2016.
“Much as this is a laudable step by the Ombudsman, it is highly doubtful if the 50 million-peso extortion operation was masterminded solely by Argosino and Robles,” she said in her recent Dispatch from Crame No. 272.
“During the Senate investigation, several other officials were implicated in the money trail, from the meeting of Secretary Aguirre with Jack Lam at the Shangri-la Hotel to the final delivery of the 50 million pesos at the Dasmariñas residence of PAGCOR President Alfred Lim,” she added.
Argosino and Robles, together with retired police officer Wenceslao Sombero Jr., have been charged by the Ombudsman with plunder under Republic Act 7080, graft under RA 3019 and direct bribery under the Revised Penal Code, for purportedly extorting P50 million from Lam.
The cases stemmed from Argosino and Robles’ alleged receipt of a P50-million bribe from Lam to free some illegal Chinese workers who were arrested at his Pampanga casino, in 2016.
Notably, Argosino and Robles are Duterte’s personal appointees and fellow brothers in the Lex Talionis fraternity.
De Lima, a former justice secretary, said the common denominator among these actors is their link to President Duterte’s law school fraternity, and personal ties with the President himself.
“If anything, it certainly points to a major shake-down operation at the highest levels of government on a vulnerable gambling syndicate that needed DOJ, BI, and PAGCOR protection,” she said.
“To submit that the only culpable officials here are the BI deputies misses the role of essential actors, such as Aguirre and Lim, whose blessings were needed for the grant of protection to Jack Lam, which, in the first place, is the very consideration for the entire bribe offer and extortion deal,” she added.
The Senator from Bicol urged Argosino and Robles to reveal the extent of the involvement of Duterte officials and their fraternity brothers in the entire extortion operation to hold everyone accountable of their actions.
“There is no shame in Argosino and Robles turning their backs on personal fraternity ties, especially if they were left in the cold holding the money bag just for the others to escape liability,” she said.
“Certainly, there is no honor in taking all the blame and serving a life sentence for the crime, while the extortion masterminds continue to remain scot-free to plunder more,” she added.