MANILA - Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II on Tuesday said he feels "betrayed" amid the corruption scandal rocking the Bureau of Immigration (BI), an attached agency of the Department of Justice (DOJ).
Two ranking officials at the bureau, Assistant Commissioners Al Argosino and Michael Robles, who happen to be fraternity brothers of Aguirre and President Duterte at San Beda College of Law's Lex Talionis Fraternitas, Inc., figured in a P50-million bribe controversy involving gambling tycoon Jack Lam.
The two were caught via CCTV camera receiving five paper bags reportedly containing P10 million each at a restaurant in a casino mall in Parañaque City last November 27. The monies were handed to them by Lam's representative, Wally Sombero, a former policeman.
Another immigration official, retired police general Charles Calima, who now heads the BI intelligence office in acting capacity, also figured in the controversy.
Argosino and Robles claimed Calima took P18-million of the P50-million bribe "for distribution" to other immigration officials in exchange for the release of some 600 out of the 1,316 illegal Chinese employees arrested at Lam's Fontana Leisure Park and Casino at Clark Freeport in Pampanga.
Calima was appointed to his post by Aguirre.
"You felt betrayed. You felt that they were not following the order of the president to go after corruption," Aguirre said.
The justice chief admitted to being "very close" to Argosino and Robles, whom he described as constant companions during the presidential campaign. Argosino was part of then candidate Duterte's election legal team.
Aguirre has ordered an investigation into the incident, and assured heads will roll, without fear or favor. He submitted a report on the incident to President Duterte on Monday.
"Have trust in me… I will be fair, there will be no favors to anybody," he said.
Argosino and Robles personally went to the DOJ on Tuesday afternoon to turn over P30-million of the P50-million alleged bribe money to Aguirre. P2-million of the amount went to Sombero, the embattled officials alleged.
"We are accepting this (P30-million) but this is only for safekeeping of evidence or alleged evidence without prejudice to the ongoing investigation being made by the NBI (National Bureau of Investigation) and BI, and of course, by the DOJ," Aguirre said.
The turned over monies will be counted, for validation purposes, at the DOJ and deposited in an undisclosed bank.
The justice chief recommended the dismissal of Argosino and Robles, and all others involved in the incident to President Duterte.
Argosino and Robles have already gone on leave, while Calima has yet to follow suit.
"Dapat lahat mag-leave to give the investigation a free hand," he said.
Asked if he already found prima facie evidence against Argosino and Robles, Aguirre answered in the affirmative, citing Sombero's report of their alleged extortion.
It was Sombero who spoke to Aguirre of the alleged extortion by the two BI officials. When confronted, Argosino and Robles admitted to the November 27 incident, but had a different version of the story: they were trying to dig deeper into Lam's alleged illegal activities, as well as widespread corruption at the bureau.
The alleged November 27 payoff took place a day after Aguirre met Lam, Sombero and Argosino in Bonifacio Global City to discuss several issues hounding Fontana.
Aguirre had claimed Lam's camp also tried to bribe him then and asked him to be the businessman's "godfather" or protector in the Philippines.