Two Immigration officials caught on camera allegedly receiving P50 million from Wally Sombero, a former police official linked to gambling tycoon Jack Lam, are insisting on one defense: they were framed.
Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II said Immigration associate commissioners Michael Robles and Al Argosino are set to file charges against the individuals who allegedly made it appear that they extorted money from Sombero.
"Nakausap ko na rin itong dalawang ito at sinasabi nila na sila'y na-frame up. In other words, na-set up sila. They will file a complaint diyan sa pangyayaring iyan," Aguirre, a fraternity brother of the two commissioners, told radio DZMM.
The Bureau of Immigration earlier ordered Robles, Argosino and acting BI Intelligence Chief Police Director Charles T. Calima Jr (Ret.) to submit within 24 hours their explanation on the allegations of a P50 million extortion try against Lam. Both Argosino and Robles have taken a 30-day leave of absence to give the bureau a free hand in the investigation.
A TV Patrol report earlier showed screenshots of CCTV footage showing the alleged extortion attempt inside a casino mall in Parañaque City.
The video showed Sombero giving five paper bags to Argosino and Robles last November 27. Each paper bag allegedly contained P10 million each, an ABS-CBN source said.
The source said Robles and Argosino initially demanded P150 million from Sombero in exchange for the release of over 1,300 allegedly undocumented Chinese workers who were arrested in Lam's illegal online casino in Pampanga.
Lam's camp allegedly brought down the demand to P100 million, giving the Immigration officials an initial P50 million and promising another P50 million once his workers were freed.
Aguirre said the two BI officials are insisting Sombero, Lam and Calima had set them up.
"Ang nag-set up daw sa kanila ay si Wally Sombero principally. I think kasama rin si General Calima. And of course, sabi nilang ganyan, because of Jack Lam," Aguirre said.
The Justice chief declined to give details on how Robles and Argosino were allegedly set up, saying it would be better to wait for the BI commissioners to file their complaint on Tuesday.
"Mahaba po yung kwento. I think it's better para kumpleto kasi hindi ko naman alam talaga lahat ng kanilang depensa," he said, adding that he has not read the commissioners' draft complaint.
The BI and National Bureau of Immigration (NBI) are conducting separate probes on the alleged extortion ploy, which Aguirre said may involve other officials.
Aguirre noted that if the two commissioners indeed accepted money from Sombero, they would need the help of other officials to free Lam's workers since a release order requires the signature of all commissioners.
"Hindi natin malalaman kung sila lang dalawa ang involved o mayroon pang involved o may katotohanan itong sinasabi ng dalawang associate commissioner ng BI na sila ay na-set up, na frame up lang," he added.
(We cannot determine yet if only the two of them were involved or if there were other officials involved or if they were just indeed framed.)
To ensure a credible investigation, Aguirre said he will urge President Duterte to order the immediate relief of Argosino, Robles, and all other officials tagged in the incident.
Argosino and Robles are fraternity brothers of Aguirre and Duterte at the San Beda College of Law.
Their meet-up with Sombero occurred a day after Aguirre himself met with the former police colonel and Lam at a hotel in Bonifacio Global City.
Aguirre has claimed that Sombero attempted but failed to bribe him to be Lam's "godfather" during their November 26 meeting.
Duterte has ordered Lam's arrest over bribery and economic sabotage charges. Sombero, meanwhile, has requested protective custody from the NBI.