Kulang ng P1K: BI officials in Jack Lam extort try may not face plunder
Former Bureau of Immigration (BI) officials accused of allegedly extorting casino mogul Jack Lam some P50 million last year are seen to be charged with an offense lower than plunder, all because the “cash” being used as evidence is “short” of the threshold amount by a mere P1,000.
Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon and Sen. Loren Legarda, when told that the supposed P50-million tainted money is now short of P1,000,could not believe what they heard from Department of Justice (DOJ) Sec. Vitaliano Aguirre II.
“The amount involved is P50 million, why was it not plunder?” Drilon asked in the middle of the budget debates on the proposed national budget.
Initially, Legarda, who was told that the amount involved is actually P49,999,000 initially thought it was all a joke.
“They know the plunder law,” she said, noting that the minimum amount to constituent plunder charges is P50 million.
“You’re kidding? Amazing. Come one, is this true?” she asked.
Legarda said was told by Aguirre that the money P30 million that former BI associate commissioners Al Argosino and Michael Robles surrendered to the DOJ, when it was counted by the bank was short of P1,000.
“I am told that insofar as the P29,999,000 turned over to the DOJ is concerned, there is a video recording of the funds. The DOJ counting was recorded. Kulang ng P1,000,” she said.
The remaining P20 million, P2 million of which is now in the custody of the Office of the Ombudsman and P18 million are now in the Criminal Investigation and Detection Group (CIDG) for evidentiary custody.
“This is no laughing matter. This is a deliberate attempt to escape plunder charges because plunder is not bailable. This is evidence of the crime. The total is exactly P1,000 less than the plunder case. Ito po kaya eh hindi kaya kinain ng daga ang isang libo dito para hindi maging plunder (ang charges)?” he asked.
“Shouldn’t we look into this? Because we have this rule in evidence, that the evidence must be consistent with ordinary human experience. Nakakapagtaka na yung P50million nagiging P49 million na lang and incidentally the P50 million is the threshold for plunder. I do not know who should conduct the investigation here. Ang nakakalungkot lamang hindi na plunder ang ipa file dito dahil nawala yung P1,000,” said Drilon.
Argosino and Robles allegedly received P50 million in November last year from Lam’s camp in exchange supposedly release of 600 illegal Chinese workers employed by the casino mogul.
Drilon’s attention was called when he learned that Argosino and Robles are not facing plunder charges but rather, would likely be slapped with anti-graft cases, the penalty of which is imprisonment of only one year to 10 years.
Drilon, former DOJ chief and executive secretary, pointed out that the credibility of the evidence is judged whether or not it is consistent with human nature.
“Pag humingi kayo ng bribe pwede nyo bang sabihin na ang aking hinihingi ay P49,999,000? This is inconsistent with human experience. And I do hope that the Ombudsman will see through this. Of course the problem now is that they maliciously removed the P1,000 so that they will not be charged with plunder. I do not know the solution but certainly this smells to the heavens and we do hope that the Ombudsman will come up with the solution,” he said.
Both Drilon and Sen. Richard Gordon, blue ribbon committee chair who led the probe on the said issue assailed the handling of the case.
While plunder is punishable by life imprisonment, if found guilty, Drilon said those who will be recommended to be prosecuted for whatever offenses committee, are now likely to be slapped with lesser charges.
“I just want to put it on the record, so that in case the Ombudsman is listening, that these culprits engineered a surrender of the so-called P29,999,000…I think it can be deduced that this is all a mockery, a burlesque if you will, to try and cheat the government of justice,” Gordon said.
“The charges is for violation of Section 3 (e) of the Anti-Graft Law…RA 3019