Former Immigration Associate Commissioner Michael Robles
MANILA, Philippines — Former immigration associate commissioner Al Arogsino became emotional when Sen. Chiz Escudero confronted him during the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee hearing over the alleged bribery scandal.
Argosino is among those who allegedly received money from the camp of gambling tycoon Jack Lam in exchange for the release of more than one thousand illegal Chinese workers arrested in Fontana Casino in Pampanga last November.
The former immigration official maintained having no interest in the money from Lam.
“Sinabi ko po sa kanya [Robles] nasa elevator, ‘Sige kunin natin ebidensiya iyan [P50-M],’ ” he said.
(I said to him [Robles] in the elevator, ‘Alright, let’s take that [P50-M] as evidence.’)
During the hearing, Argosino and Atty. Michael Robles, who is also a former immigration associate commissioner, were forced to explain the CCTV footage taken from a hotel in Pasay City showing the two receiving bribery money from Lam’s spokesman Wally Sombero Jr.
Argosino claimed it to be a legitimate operation while Robles admitted that they didn’t have authority to conduct an undercover operation against Lam.
“Specifically your Honor, I have to be candid, we are not authorized. There is no authority under the law giving us that kind of power,” said Robles.
Blue Ribbon Committee chair Sen. Richard Gordon also lambasted Robles for denying having interest in the bribery money.
“Alam mo na may nangyayari (You knew something was going on) but you didn’t do anything about it!” Gordon told the lawyer.
Robles replied, “I was asking him [Argosino] Mr. Chair because he is in control and I defer to his discretion.”
Gordon retorted, “Are you trying to make me believe that you are stupid?”
Meanwhile, retired police Wally Sombero was once again a no-show at the Senate probe on Tuesday.
His lawyer said he was under medical observation abroad.
Sen. Gordon castigated the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) and Sec. Vitaliano Aguirre for allegedly concealing the fact that Sombero was under NBI custody, and that they even allowed him to leave the country amid the ongoing Senate probe.
“Hindi ko alam na pumasok na po siya sa NBI (I didn’t know that he was already with the NBI). They accepted Sombero without informing me; without clearance from me,” said Sec. Aguirre.
“According to him [Sombero] he is being hunted by General Bato,” said National Bureau of Investigation Deputy Director Vicente de Guzman. “Considering that we received an order from the Department of Justice ordering NBI to conduct investigation on the alleged bribery in the Immigration Commission, we deemed it proper to accept Sombero’s request so we can get information from him.”
Gordon said he might cite Sombero in contempt, while Sen. Chiz Escudero warned the NBI that they will be responsible if Sombero failed to show up on the next hearing again.
Meanhwile, Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre apologized to Sen. Francis Pangilinan after wrongly accusing the senator of offering legislative immunity to Robles and Argosino.
He also defended himself against Sen. Antonio Trillanes’ accusations that he also received bribery money.
“Let me state for the record that the good Senator [Pangilinan] is not involved in any plot or any plan as reported earlier. I apologize to Senator Kiko, a good public servant and an even better person, for any blemish caused to his unsullied reputation.
The Senate will continue its probe on the matter on February 7 wherein Sombero is expected to attend. — Joyce Balancio | UNTV News and Rescue
MANILA, Philippines — President Rodrigo Duterte supports a call for the Office of the Ombudsman to conduct an investigation on the government’s alleged anomalous procurement of pandemic supplies.
The president was referring to the appeal of the Philippine College of Physicians for the Ombudsman to file appropriate cases against all those accountable in the controversial multibillion-peso deals between the government and Pharmally Pharmaceutical Corp.
“We welcome the call of the Philippine College of Physicians that this matter should be immediately given to our courts and the Ombudsman. We have been saying this for the longest time and we all know that the Senate cannot prosecute. Mabuti pa ang mga doktor alam at naintindihan nila,” Duterte said.
“File cases is the right way to go. Stop using this issue in aid of election. Problema kasi sa Senate natin trying hard maghanap ng mga issue na may nangungurakot o kaya may nagkakapera,” he added.
The chief executive stated that, to date, the Senate Blue Ribbon committee has yet to build a case out of the hearings it has conducted, pointing out that that the said government deal was consistent with Republic Act (RA) 9184 or the Government Procurement Reform Act and RA 11469 or the Bayanihan to Heal as One-Act.
“And so we go back now to what has been established many times, walang overpricing […} legal ang naging proseso ng pagbili, according to what has been provided by Bayanihan 1. Na-deliver lahat at binayaran nang pagkatapos na-deliver,” the president insisted.
Duterte also dared the Senate to bring the matter to the proper courts.
“And if you think that you have identified companies with tax issues, then file the appropriate cases. Matagal na naman namin sinasabi, kasuhan niyo ang mga dapat kasuhan. Lahat naman talaga dapat magbayad ng buwis at kung kailangan magbayad, singilan para magbayad iyong may mga atraso sa gobyerno kagaya ni Senator Gordon,” Duterte said.
“Eh you call my memorandum ‘stupid?’ Well, I challenge you: bring your arguments to the proper court and I will answer you,” he further stated.
The president also slammed Senator Richard Gordon for threatening to cut the budget of the executive department if the officials will not attend the Blue Ribbon’s hearings, calling it a blatant abuse of power.
“You threaten the budget of different agencies of the Executive because the officials refuse to attend to your hearings. Ito ‘yung mga pang-abuso talaga itong masabi ko sa gobyerno — sa gobyerno ‘pag ka demokrasya, itong separation of powers, co-equal and everything; and they threatened to paralyze government,” Duterte said.
“I challenge you, do it. ‘Pag ka ‘yung mga hearing reduce the budget by one third, hinahamon ko kayo, gawain ninyo ‘yan,” he added. —/mbmf
MANILA, Philippines—President Rodrigo Duterte on Wednesday night (October 6) defended his memorandum order barring government officials from attending the Senate investigation on the government’s management of pandemic funds.
During his regular public address, Duterte slammed senators who were calling for the withdrawal of the memo directing government officials and employees to no longer attend the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee hearings.
“Kayo ang nag-umpisa nito eh. Kayo ang nag-umpisa nitong lahat (You’re the ones who started this. You started all of this), he said referring to the panel.
The committee is currently conducting investigation on alleged irregularities in the government’s procurement of COVID-19 pandemic supplies last year.
“I have to protect the Executive department from the incessant and steady dose of insults coming from the senators,” Duterte said. “There ain’t no way that I will withdraw it. You can do your worst and I will do mine,” he added.
The Chief Executive said government employees, including Cabinet members, should be focused on addressing the pandemic instead of participating in Senate hearings. The President also slammed Senator Francis ‘Kiko’ Pangilinan for threatening government employees.
“I’m told that it was Pangilinan who said that ‘the worst is yet to come’ to mga empleyado (the employees). Who are you to threaten or even to intimidate government workers?” Duterte said. AAC
MANILA, Philippines – Department of Justice (DOJ) Secretary Menardo Guevarra on Wednesday defended President Rodrigo Duterte’s memorandum prohibiting officials and employees from the Executive Department from attending hearings conducted by the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee on contracts between the government and the Pharmally Pharmaceutical Corporation.
During a hearing by the Senate finance committee on the DOJ’s 2022 proposed budget, Guevarra said the memo does not seek to defy the congressional authority to hold legislative inquiries.
“To me, the objective or the essence of this memo is not to defy your authority or prerogative but to protest the manner the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee hearings has been conducted during the past few weeks,” he said.
He also pointed out that the memo was only confined to a particular probe.
The memorandum order signed by Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea covers specifically the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee’s legislative inquiries into the Commission on Audit report flagging the alleged deficiencies in COVID-19 pandemic spending.
Guevarra clarified that he was not involved in the drafting of the memo but he believes that the main concern may be the amount of time that Cabinet officials spend in the hearing.
The hearings that have since spanned to Duterte’s appointees and other individuals, have been going on for two months.
Guevarra said that this period should have been enough for lawmakers to see if there is any law that needs to be amended or enacted, or some legal provisions that need to be repealed.
He also said he is willing to speak to Medialdea to discuss the memo but stressed that the Senate panel should also make some adjustments as to the manner and timing of the attendance of officials from the Executive branch..
Some groups, including the Philippine Bar Association, have called on Duterte to reconsider his memo as it upsets the system of checks and balances in the government.
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