Immigration Deputy Commissioners Argosino, Robles: Our integrity is intact

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Immigration Deputy Commissioners Michael Robles (L) and Al Argosino (R) presented to media what they called their "gift" for President Duterte — the first criminal case filed against gambling tycoon Jack Lam, his associate Willy Sombero, and two interpreters.

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines) — "Our integrity is intact."

This is what Immigration Deputy Commissioners Al Argosino and Michael Robles pointed out to media on Tuesday.

The two Immigration officials were ordered yesterday by Commissioner Jaime Morente to answer allegations that they extorted ₱50 million from Jack Lam, a Macau-based gambling tycoon allegedly connected with unauthorized online gambling activities in the country.

Morente gave Argosino and Robles, together with acting Immigration Intelligence Chief Police Director Charles Calima Jr., 24 hours to explain.

Argosino admitted, they met with Lam's associate Wally Sombero in one popular casino hotel in Parañaque, and that they were offered money and had accepted it. 

But he was quick to say — this was part of a plan to make a strong case against Lam.

"So this is the evidence that there is corruption in the Bureau of Immigration," Argosino said. "Kung mahina-hina ang loob namin, I could just easily say, sorry hindi ako yang nasa picture. Sorry pupunta na ako sa abroad. Sorry dala-dala ko na ito. At yan ang pinaglalaban namin ni Commissioner Robles when we conducted a continuing investigation on Jack Lam."

[Translation: If we just don't have the nerve, I could easily say 'sorry I'm not the one in that picture,' 'sorry, I'm now going abroad,' 'sorry, I'll bring this with me'. And that's what I and Commissioner Robles fought for when we conducted a continuing investigation on Lam.]

CNN Philippines was able to obtain from a source screen shots of the CCTV footage Argosino was referring to.

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Argosino pointed out, meeting with Sombero in a place full of cameras was a risk they had to take.

"We were not born yesterday. We know that when we put ourselves in the City of Dreams, sa tingin nyo ba hindi namin alam na may mga camera dyan (do you think we didn't know that there were cameras around)," Argosino said.

And with these pieces of evidence, Argosino argued they were able to expose and gain evidence that there was indeed "payoffs" in the Bureau of Immigration (BI).

"This is not a small amount of money. We could have easily sa(id), 'no', wala yan. Pinakita yung pictures? No, hindi kami yan. And what did I do? I will have the earliest retirement of my life," Argosino said.  [We could have easily said no, that's nothing. There were pictures? No, that's not us.]

"Kami ni Deputy Commissioner Mike Robles ang naka-diskubre ng the only living evidence against Jack Lam. That there is payoff in the Bureau of Immigration.  That this payoff continues inside the Bureau of Immigration." [I together with Deputy Commissioner Mike Robles, we discovered the only living evidence against Jack Lam.]

Argosino also explained why they did not arrest Sombero at the time they met him at the hotel — he said they were hoping that Jack Lam would show up.

"We could have easily made the arrest. But why did we not pursue it and consider this as future evidence?  Because at the time that Wally Sombero had met us in the City of Dreams, walang signs of Jack Lam. Mahuhuli ko si Wally Sombero pero walang sign of Jack Lam," he said. [There were no signs of Jack Lam. I will be able to arrest Wally Sombero but there was no sign of Jack Lam.]

Argosino adds, they support President Rodrigo Duterte's efforts to eradicate corruption in the government.

"We will never be instrumental to any attempts that would prevent the Duterte administration from pursuing the reforms that the Duterte administration would like to happen," he said.

To prove this, Argosino and Robles presented to media what they called their "gift" for President Duterte — the first criminal case filed against Lam, his associate Sombero, and two interpreters.

"Mr. President, we were able to give you the living proof that Jack Lam is into corruption. And we are the first officers, we were able to file corruption charges against Jack Lam," Argosino said showing the criminal case filed against Lam and others. "This is our gift to you Mr. President."

Robles and Argosino also surrendered the cash they received from Sombero.

Aguirre: No stone unturned, no sacred cows

After Argosino and Robles faced the media, Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre had his own press conference and said he had ordered the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) to probe the allegations of corruption and extortion at the BI.

"I have formalized my earlier directive to the NBI to fully investigate the allegations of bribery and extortion in relation to the operation conducted against foreign nationals at the Fontana Leisure Park, Clark Field, Angeles, Pampanga. This is contained in Department Order no. 896," Aguirre said.

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"We want to get to the bottom of these allegations and we believe that the probe that will be conducted by the NBI will help us get  to the truth," he added.

"In faithful compliance with the President's anti-corruption directive to me, I wish to reiterate that there will be no stone unterned and no sacred cows in this probe."

Aguirre also said he would not tolerate corruption, especially within his department.

"There is no place for the corrupt in the DoJ (Department of Justice) family. There is no place for them at all in the government", Aguirre said.

CNN Philippines' Anjo Alimario and Triciah Terada contributed to this report.

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