JUSTICE Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre 2nd on Tuesday maintained his innocence in the bribery scandal that has engulfed the Bureau of Immigration (BI), deploring what he claimed was a concerted effort by his detractors to derail his confirmation.
Aguirre belied the accusations against him in a roundtable discussion with The Manila Times editorial team and said he did not need the testimony of retired police officer Wally Sombero for him to clear his name on the bribery-extortion scandal involving Macau-based gambling tycoon Jack Lam.
Sombero, who returned to Manila on Tuesday, absolved the Justice secretary from any involvement in the bribery.
“I want to put this on the record. I have no knowledge of any connection or links that the Secretary is involved with this scandal,” Sombero said shortly after arriving at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport.
Sombero, Lam’s alleged go-between, is set to testify before the Senate blue ribbon committee investigation on Thursday regarding his involvement in the bribery scandal.
Aguirre said three other persons linked to the scandal had cleared him from involvement.
“It’s ironic considering I’m the one who ordered the raid on Fontana Leisure Park owned by Jack Lam and the arrest of the illegal Chinese workers,” the Cabinet official pointed out.
Aguirre said his name was cleared by Sombero before the latter’s return to the country, and by former BI intelligence chief Charles Calima who was among those charged in connection with the scandal.
The Justice Secretary also noted that former BI associate commissioners Al Argosino and Michael Robles, who received the P48 million alleged bribe from Sombero, never implicated him.
“All four principal players, (retired) General Calima, the two commissioners, including Wally Sombero through text [message]during the Senate hearing absolved me of any connection or liability with respect to any money coming from Jack Lam,” Aguirre pointed out.
Senator Antonio Trillanes 4th questioned Aguirre’s actions during a Senate hearing, including the Justice chief’s decision to meet with Lam and Sombero inside Shangri-la Bonifacio Global City (BGC); his move to invite then BI deputy commissioner Al Argosino, his fraternity brother, to the meeting with Lam instead of BI Commissioner Jaime Morente, and Sombero giving P50 million to Argosino when he knew that Argosino did not have the authority to release the Chinese workers caught at Fontana in November 24.
Aguirre maintained he was not aware that Argosino and Robles had a meeting with Sombero at the City of Dreams on November 26 after the Shangri-La meeting, as well as the P50 million that exchanged hands.
Aguirre also said Sombero could be considered as a state witness in the case but it is up to the prosecutors or the Ombudsman to determine if the former police general was qualified.
However, if there are other people who can testify in the case, it is unlikely he will qualify as state witness. Sombero may be given a lighter penalty, depending on his testimony.
“Well I’m sure that if he is going to tell the truth, it could be considered as a mitigating circumstance,” Aguirre added.
Back in Manila
Sombero, who left the country for health reasons in January this year, arrived in Manila at 8:40 a.m.
“I was not in hiding,” he told reporters who mobbed him at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport.
He explained that he wanted to come home earlier but was stopped at the Vancouver airport due to “palpitations and shortness of breath.”
Sombero said that he was brought to the Richmonde General Hospital in Vancouver.
with BENJIE L. VERGARA