Immigration Deputy Commisioners Al Argosino and Michael Robles present to media yesterday P30 million in cash, which they admitted accepting and keeping purportedly as part of an investigation against Macau-based businessman Jack Lam. EDD GUMBAN

2 BI execs surrender P30-M casino ‘bribe’
Edu Punay (The Philippine Star) - December 14, 2016 - 12:00am

Immigration officials face relief

MANILA, Philippines – Bureau of Immigration (BI) Deputy Commissioners Al Argosino and Michael Robles surrendered yesterday to Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II P30 million out of the P50 million in cash they received from the camp of Chinese casino mogul Jack Lam.

Aguirre has asked President Duterte to relieve the two BI officials accused of extorting P50 million from Lam over his illegal casino operations in Clark Freeport, Pampanga.

Aguirre received the P30 million and said it would be temporarily deposited in a bank for safekeeping. 

The two BI officials said P18 million went to BI intelligence division chief Charles Calima Jr. while P2 million was given to former police chief superintendent Wally Sombero, supposedly the middleman.

The two officials, however, denied the extortion charge and said they were conducting an investigation and were just “framed up” during the incident last Nov. 27 at the City of Dreams Casino in Parañaque City, which was caught on closed-circuit television camera. 

Argosino and Robles claimed that Lam supposedly paid the money for their help in processing the license of Fontana Leisure Park and Casino in Clark Freeport, Pampanga.

Sombero claimed that the money was not for processing of the license of Lam’s casino but rather for the release of 1,316 Chinese employees arrested inside Fontana casino last Nov. 24.   

The DOJ chief explained that the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) and BI would still complete their separate probes before they could determine which version is more believable.

“Because of the anti-corruption program of the government, it’s better that they be relieved (from their post),” Aguirre said in a press conference.

He said he only made a recommendation since the two officials are presidential appointees who serve at the pleasure of the President.

But Aguirre deferred judgment on the allegations against the two BI officials, who earlier filed leaves of absence, and await results of the ongoing NBI probe and a parallel probe by the office of BI commissioner Jaime Morente.

“I have no opinion yet. I don’t want to prejudge it,” he explained.

Aguirre admitted that he felt “betrayed” by the two BI officials, who happen to be his brothers in the Lex Talionis fraternity in San Beda College of Law. They also helped in the campaign of their frat brother, President Duterte.

Aguirre even recalled recommending Argosino for his appointment in the BI, an attached agency of the Department of Justice (DOJ).

Ombudsman probe

Ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales yesterday ordered a formal investigation on the alleged P50-million extortion attempt on Lam by two BI officials.

“I directed my office this morning to check on the case and see if we can, motu proprio, start our own investigation,” Morales said.

She said that while the DOJ has launched its own probe on the supposed extortion, it is just fitting for the ombudsman to conduct a parallel probe to dispel any suspicion of bias, as the BI is an attached agency of the DOJ.

“Probably, our investigation would also be parallel to their investigation, and it would be more proper for us to handle the case because the DOJ has jurisdiction over them,” Morales said.

Morales said her office can launch a self-initiated investigation even with media reports as lead.

“For as long as there are leads... we motu proprio investigate,” Morales said.

Karen Gandamra, chief of the BI field office in Clark Freeport, said yesterday that 600 undocumented Chinese workers of Lam at Fontana Leisure Park and Casino have posted bail.

Gandamra said the 600 Chinese have legitimate visas.

The workers were among the 1,300 Chinese employees of Lam’s illegal online gambling operations, and were held at the Fontana Convention Center where they have stayed despite posting bail because they have no other place to stay, Gandarma said.

The workers paid P50,000 bail each to the BI legal department.

“They have to stay on until they are cleared,” Gandamra said.

She said those who had proper documents are facing cancellation of their working visas because their employment has ceased with the closure of Fontana, as ordered by the state-owned Clark Development Corp.

Gandamra said her office never dealt with Lam and had nothing to do with the Fontana controversy.

“What I know is that Lam is known to deal only with higher authorities,” she added.

“The only role of my office here is to provide space for the central office’s Alien Registration Division (ARD) for the biometrics processing of the Chinese applying for bail,” she said.

Gandamra explained that all aliens slated for employment in the free port first pass through the Clark Development Corp. and the Department of Labor and Employment before being approved by her office. - With Elizabeth Marcelo, Ding Cervantes

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