SC backs transfer to Bilibid of ex-BI officials, ex-cop convicted of plunder

Mike Navallo, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Aug 19 2022 07:02 PM | Updated as of Aug 19 2022 08:10 PM

MANILA — The Supreme Court has denied the plea of 2 former Immigration officials and a former cop convicted of graft and plunder to stay in Camp Bagong Diwa in Taguig.

Instead, the high court upheld the Sandiganbayan’s ruling ordering the transfer of Al Argosino, Michael Robles and Wenceslao Sombero to the New Bilibid Prison in Muntinlupa.

Argosino and Robles, both former Immigration deputy commissioners, and Sombero, described in Senate hearings as a "fixer," are facing up to 40 years in prison for plunder and up to 10 years in jail for graft. 

The Sandiganbayan convicted them in June last year for facilitating the release of 1,316 Chinese nationals caught illegally working in Fontana, Pampanga in exchange for P50 million.

Sombero allegedly acted as a middleman and handed over paper bags containing money to Argosino and Robles in a casino in Parañaque City. Argosino was accused of being the "main plunderer."

LINK https://news.abs-cbn.com/news/06/25/21/sandiganbayan-convicts-immigration-officials-plunder

During the promulgation of their conviction, the 3 asked that they be allowed to stay in the Metro Manila District Jail in Camp Bagong Diwa, Taguig but the Sandiganbayan, in July 2021, denied their pleas. It issued instead an order of commitment pending appeal for their transfer to Bilibid.

The 3 appealed the ruling to the Supreme Court citing the surge of the COVID-19 delta variant. Their transfer to Bilibid allegedly exposed them to a greater risk of infection since they are suffering from several ailments.

Sombero, then 65, was supposedly suffering from coronary artery disease, cardiac dysrhythmia, sick sinus syndrome, severe sleep apnea, exogenous obesity, and type 2 diabetes mellitus.

Argosino claimed to have hypertension and diabetes, while Robles said he was diagnosed with cardiac dysrhythmia hypertension and hyperthyroidism.

They invoked the Supreme Court’s ruling in the plunder case against former senator Juan Ponce Enrile, who was released on humanitarian grounds.

SC RULING

In a resolution dated Feb. 15, 2022 but released to the public only recently, the Supreme Court First Division denied the motions, classifying the 3 as national prisoners who should immediately be moved to Bilibid because their prison terms exceed 3 years.

"Being national prisoners, the Sandiganbayan was correct in ordering the transfer of accused-appellants from the MMDJ, a local jail, to the NBP in Muntinlupa City, which is the national penitentiary managed by the Bureau of Corrections (BuCor)," it said.

"[I]f the penalty imposed requires the service of sentence in the National Penitentiary and the convicted accused is already under detention, the trial court should immediately order the transfer of national prisoners to the NBP. This ministerial duty of issuing the mittimus or commitment order must be accomplished despite the filing of a notice of appeal," it added.

The court also drew a clear distinction between their case and that of Enrile.

"Unlike in Enrile, accused-appellants/movants in these cases are not mere detainees asking to be released on bail pending trial. They are national prisoners, who, upon conviction of violation of RA No. 3019 and Plunder, are no longer presumed innocent," SC said.

"Moreover, their allegations pertaining to their health conditions, and the documents showing the medical findings of their doctors, are questions of fact which are not within the province of the Court to determine," it added.

The high court also rejected their COVID arguments, citing lower positivity rates and coronavirus cases in the country, and ramped-up vaccination efforts.

"The COVID-19 virus has challenged the way systems and the society at large operate on a day-to-day basis-unsparing, of course, the justice system. Although the Court has acknowledged in its administrative circulars the health hazards marring places of congregation, this alone do not justify the granting of accused-appellants prayer for their continued stay at the MMDJ-Annex 4 in Taguig City as an alternative place of confinement and for the suspension of their transfer to the NBP," the court said.

"As we have explained in People v. Napoles, statutory rules are not supplanted by the existence of a pandemic and may only be suspended on exceptional and compelling considerations. The Court finds none in this case. The reality is, COVID-19 will pose the same level of hazard to accused-appellants, to people of all ages, whether inside or outside the National Penitentiary," it added.

ABS-CBN News is still checking if the 3 have been transferred to Bilibid as of writing.

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