The Philippine anti-graft court convicted two of President Rodrigo Duterte’s fraternity brothers of plunder along with a retired police officer over one of his government’s first corruption scandals.
The Sandiganbayan said former Bureau of Immigration deputy commissioners Al Argosino and Michael Robles as well as retired policeman Wenceslao Sombero extorted P50 million from Macau-based gambling tycoon Jack Lam in 2016.
The three were sentenced to 40 years in prison for plunder as well as 10 years for graft. They are also perpetually disqualified from holding public office.
Argosino and Robles were among the Lex Talionis Fraternitas brothers Duterte appointed to office upon assuming the presidency.
The anti-graft court ruled the three were guilty of extorting the amount in exchange for the release of 1,316 Chinese nationals caught illegally working in Pampanga.
It said Sombero acted as middleman while Argosino was identified as the “main plunderer.”
Closed circuit television footage presented at a Senate investigation showed the officials and the middleman receiving bagfuls of cash from Lam and later carrying them out to a casino parking lot in Pasay City.
Argosino and Robles later claimed they took home to the money to protect it before handing them over to the Philippine National Police.
In 2017, Lex Talionis member and Duterte’s first justice secretary Vitaliano Aguirre appeared to try to protect Argosino and Robles when he declared the three could not be charged for plunder as the money they returned was P1,000 short of the minimum P50 million for the offense.
The National Bureau of Investigation, an agency under Aguirre’s supervision, consequently recommended the lighter charge of graft and corruption.
Then Ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales however disregarded the Department of Justice recommendations and went ahead with the plunder charges.
Sandiganbayan justices later discovered the full P50 million was intact after the accused separately returned the amount in batches, leading to their plunder conviction.
Aguirre was himself implicated in the scandal when Sombero revealed the then justice secretary also met with Lam on the day they received the money.
Aguirre however was allowed to stay as justice secretary until April 2018 when he figured in another controversy involving his clearance of alleged big time drug personalities Kerwin Espino and Peter Lim.
The Jack Lam extortion scandal was not the first time that Argosino has figured in the news.
He was among the senior students implicated in the hazing death of fellow San Beda College of Law student Raul Camaligan in 1991.
Argosino and his co-accused pleaded guilty to the charge of reckless imprudence resulting in homicide and were imprisoned from 1993 to 1995.
Argosino passed the bar examinations in 1993.
Upon his release, he petitioned the Supreme Court to be allowed to practice law which was allowed after senators, former magistrates and members of the religious community attested he was of “good moral character.”
He and his co-accused also declared they have promised a Raul Camaligan Scholarship Foundation to atone for the death of the then Lex Talionis neophyte.
Both the Camaligan family and San Beda later told The Philippine Daily Inquirer the foundation was just an empty promise.
Lex Talionis is seen as the most powerful law school-based fraternity when member Duterte became President in 2016 and began appointing several fraternity brothers to high government positions. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)