MANILA – Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II on Tuesday said he might turn the tables on Senator Leila de Lima if the latter’s plan to conduct a Senate investigation into the bribery scandal at the Bureau of Immigration (BI) pushes through.
De Lima earlier filed a resolution seeking a legislative probe into the alleged bribery incident involving BI officials and gambling tycoon Jack Lam.
The senator argued that leaving the investigation of the BI scandal into the hands of Aguirre may not be a good idea, noting that Lam had allegedly attempted to bribe the justice secretary but the latter did not take decisive actions.
In a news conference, Aguirre said there might be no need for the Senate probe as multiple bodies are already tackling the case.
“Marami nang body na nag-iinvestigate nyan eh, BI, DOJ, NBI, Ombudsman,” Aguirre said.
“Dapat sagutin na lang niya ang kaso niya. Huwag na siyang magdadagdag ng kaso… Magkakaroon lang ng political color kasi parang lumalabas na gumaganti lang siya eh sa mga na-file sa kanya eh.”
Aguirre, nonetheless, said he may also use the Senate probe as an opportunity to dig deeper into how alleged anomalies in agencies under the DOJ proliferated during De Lima’s stint as justice secretary.
He cited the case of over 1,000 Chinese nationals discovered working illegally in a casino in Pampanga.
He said the arrival of the illegal workers in the Philippines should have been prevented had the BI during De Lima’s time done their work.
“Sana mabuksan na ang investigation, ang resolution ni Senator De Lima para malaman natin kung ano ang ginawa niya bakit nagkaroon ng mga illegal staying na foreigners. What did she do during her incumbency as secretary of justice?” Aguirre said.
The BI was recently rocked by a scandal involving two of its deputy commissioners, Al Argosino and Michael Robles, two fraternity brothers of President Rodrigo Duterte who were accused of receiving P50 million from Lam through his alleged representative, former policeman Wally Sombero.
The bribe money was supposedly for the release of 1,316 illegal Chinese employees arrested at Lam's Fontana Leisure Park and Casino at Clark Freeport in Pampanga.
Prior to this bribery scandal, Aguirre claimed that Lam, through Sombero, attempted to bribe him.
De Lima, a former justice secretary who also supervised the BI, raised several questions on the developments involving the Lam bribery case, such as Aguirre’s “seeming lackluster response” on the bribery attempt.
"If indeed Lam, through his middleman Wally Sombero, attempted to bribe Aguirre, why didn't the latter effect right then and there, a warrantless arrest of Sombero, the latter being in flagrante delicto, and thereafter promptly move to prevent Lam's departure or escape from the country?" De Lima said.
"This failure in law enforcement and immediate prosecution of Jack Lam and his cohorts has led the public to speculate on the real story behind this incident," De Lima added in her resolution.
De Lima, a staunch critic of Duterte and his bloody war on drugs, also accused the president of treating the sacked BI officials with kid gloves.
"This failure in law enforcement and immediate prosecution of Jack Lam and his cohorts has led the public to speculate on the real story behind this incident," De Lima said.
"(This) bribery scandal raises issues on the seriousness and/or capability of the government to enforce its anti-corruption laws in situations where those involved are personal friends of the appointing authority.”
In her resolution, De Lima said the investigation in aid of legislation aims to “enhance the principle of command responsibility in bribery and corruption cases by penalizing negligence in the enforcement of laws on bribery and corruption, especially the negligence of top investigation and prosecution officers.”
Meanwhile, De Lima said Tuesday she will revise her resolution and would instead ask the Senate Committee on Civil Service, Government Reorganization and Professional Regulation chaired by Sen. Antonio Trillanes to do the probe instead of the Blue Ribbon Committee chaired by Sen. Richard Gordon.