MANILA—Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II on Tuesday denied anew the allegations of Sen. Antonio “Sonny” Trillanes IV linking him to the PHP50-million bribery scandal involving officials of the Bureau of Immigration (BI), an attached agency of the Department of Justice (DOJ).
In the previous hearing last January 23, Aguirre admitted that he was approached by retired police Senior Superintendent Wally Sombero Jr., alleged middleman of Macau-based gaming tycoon Jack Lam, to be bribed into releasing Chinese nationals illegally working in the country. He, however, turned him down.
Lam owns an online casino called Fontana Leisure Parks and Casino in Clark, Pampanga which employed around 1,316 Chinese nationals working without permits. The workers were later arrested on Nov. 24, 2016.
During the resumption of the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee hearing on the issue, Aguirre gave point-by-point answers to questions raised by Trillanes during the previous hearing.
Trillanes earlier asked Aguirre to explain how it was possible that he did not know about Lam’s illegal operations as early as 2013 when he was vice president and chief legal counsel of the Clark Development Corporation (CDC) from March 2013 to June 2016.
“As CDC’s Chief Legal Counsel, Aguirre should know and definitely knows that immigration laws were being violated by Jack Lam’s casino,” Trillanes said.
Aguirre, however, corrected Trillanes’ claim that he was CDC vice president and chief legal counsel during the previous administration from March 2013 to June 2016.
He pointed out that he was only with CDC for around five months from the third week of March 2013 to August 2013 and said that Trillanes had probably got his facts from free online encyclopedia Wikipedia known for having factual errors.
Trillanes also asked Aguirre earlier to answer several questions including why Aguirre had to meet suspects (Lam through Sombero) in this case inside a hotel, why Aguirre invited ex-BI associate commissioner Al Argosino to the meeting instead of BI commissioner Jaime Morente, why he told Argosino to coordinate with Calima, among other questions.
Aguirre denied that there was anything “malicious” about their meeting and that it was merely to save time and convenience.
He also said that he did not invite Argosino to the meeting since the meeting was not set by him, but by Lam through Sombero. Instead, he said it was Argosino who asked to join the meeting and he agreed.
The Justice Secretary further said that he agreed to meet Sombero because he knew that he “could not be bribed” and had “nothing to fear” in being corrupted.
Trillanes also earlier called on Aguirre to explain why Sombero gave PHP50 million to Argosino when he knew Argosino did not have power to release Chinese workers.
Aguirre reiterated not having the knowledge about this and asked Trillanes to ask either Sombero or Argosino to explain and not him. He also said that it was not within his power to order the release of the Chinese workers but Morente’s.
The Justice Secretary also explained that contrary to Trillanes’ claim that he already “knew” about the PHP50 to PHP 100 million bribe after mentioning it in a radio interview as early as December 1, he said it was “only an estimate” of the minimum bribe that would be given to him had he agreed to be bribed. He learned about it on December 9.
The retired cop earlier said that he did not immediately inform Aguirre about their counter intelligence operations to expose the two ex-BI officials since their report was not yet complete.
Aguirre ended his statement that his agency will continue to support any Senate investigation on the bribery scandal in aid of legislation.