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‘THE UNTOUCHABLES’

Meet NBI’s ‘rock stars’ in pork bust, biggest cases

/ 03:20 AM January 04, 2015
PORK BARREL SCAM INVESTIGATORS NBI Assistant Regional Director Rolando Argabioso (center) and his team ham it up as they pose with their plaques of recognition as best investigative unit atNBI headquarters in Manila on Nov. 13, 2014. GRIG C. MONTEGRANDE

PORK BARREL SCAM INVESTIGATORS NBI Assistant Regional Director Rolando Argabioso (center) and his team ham it up as they pose with their plaques of recognition as best investigative unit atNBI headquarters in Manila on Nov. 13, 2014. GRIG C. MONTEGRANDE

If there are rock stars in the National Bureau of Investigation, they are Assistant Regional Director Rolando Argabioso and head agent Rommel Vallejo.

Argabioso heads the NBI Special Task Force and Vallejo the Anti-Organized Crime Division, both of which investigate high-profile cases. But they are not your regular crime investigators. Tall, fair-skinned and good-looking, both can pass for doctors with excellent bedside manners.

Both men warn, however, that their looks and manners should not be taken for weakness, as these have been useful in solving a lot of big, sensational cases.

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They agreed to talk to the Inquirer, but on condition that there would be no mention of their families.

Although both are family men, they said that most of the time their jobs come first.

The sacrifices come with the job, they said, but not without rewards. Not financially, though, as they are government employees. They just love what they are doing, they said.

And they prefer to be anonymous most of the time.

“Unless it’s needed and I am on the job, I identify myself as an NBI agent. Otherwise it’s better that no one knows, especially if my family is with me,” Argabioso said.

It was Argabioso’s Special Task Force that investigated the P10-billion pork barrel scam in 2013, leading to the filing of plunder and graft and corruption charges against Senators Juan Ponce Enrile, Jinggoy Estrada and Bong Revilla along with businesswoman Janet Lim-Napoles and 34 former and current government officials.

Despite pressure from influential people, including people in the government and ordinary but well-connected citizens who wanted him to drop the investigation, Argabioso remained firm and fair in the probe into the misuse of the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF), a pork barrel that channeled funds to lawmakers’ projects.

“This is our job. Precisely I always bear in mind that these subjects have families and if we do not do our work well, we could hurt people,” Argabioso said in an earlier interview, at the height of the pork barrel investigation.

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Other porkers probed

“The magnitude of the supposed scam was so big that I could not just sit and do nothing. It was between me and my conscience, and the future of my children,” he said.

Argabioso and his team of agents, mostly lawyers, are now investigating other lawmakers who allegedly embezzled millions of pesos from the PDAF through bogus foundations set up by Napoles.

The investigation also led to a challenge to the legality of the pork barrel in the Supreme Court, which, after upholding it in the past, turned around and declared it unconstitutional on Nov. 19, 2013.

It all started with the rescue by Argabioso’s team of Benhur Luy from illegal detention in an apartment of Napoles in a high-rise residential block in Taguig City. Luy blew the whistle on Napoles’ pork barrel operation, with the Special Task Force providing him security. His disclosures provided the evidence that the NBI needed to bring charges against the three senators, Napoles and the others before the Office of the Ombudsman.

THEY GOT ‘THE BUTCHER’ Members of the Anti-Organized Crime Division team led by head agent Rommel Vallejo (seated, fourth from left) pose with their special recognition awards for capturing former Army Maj. Gen. Jovito Palparan, called “The Butcher” by human rights activists, on Aug. 12, 2014. GRIG C. MONTEGRANDE

THEY GOT ‘THE BUTCHER’ Members of the Anti-Organized Crime Division team led by head agent Rommel Vallejo (seated, fourth from left) pose with their special recognition awards for capturing former Army Maj. Gen. Jovito Palparan, called “The Butcher” by human rights activists, on Aug. 12, 2014. GRIG C. MONTEGRANDE

Ivler case

It was also Argabioso’s team that obtained information on the whereabouts of American Jason Ivler, son of folk singer Freddie Aguilar’s sister Marlene Aguilar and who was wanted for the shooting death of Renato Victor Ebarle Jr., son of former Presidential Chief of Staff Renato Ebarle Sr., in a road-rage incident in Quezon City on Nov. 18, 2009.

The Special Task Force traced Ivler to his mother’s house in Quezon City in January 2010. Ivler shot it out with the NBI agents, wounding two of them. He was shot but not killed, and was arrested.

Witnesses identified Ivler as the gunman who shot Ebarle’s son during a traffic altercation.

He is under trial for Ebarle Jr.’s murder in the Quezon City Regional Trial Court. The NBI brought charges of obstruction of justice against his mother.

Argabioso was also responsible for the arrest of the killer of one of Justice Secretary Leila de Lima’s bodyguards.

Also through professional persistence, Argabioso’s team found and arrested in Cauayan town, Isabela province, one of the suspects in the 2007 murder of Ruby Rose Barrameda. His team also found and secured a vital witness to Barrameda’s murder.

Ruby Rose, sister of former beauty queen Rochelle Barrameda, went missing in March 2007 and was found dead, her body stuffed in a concrete-filled drum, in June 2009. After obtaining the witness’ testimony, state prosecutors brought murder charges against Barrameda’s estranged husband, Manuel Jimenez III, his father, Manuel Jimenez Jr., and uncle, Lope Jimenez.

Argabioso was also involved in the investigation of the death of actress Nida Blanca in November 2001, and it was he who was assigned to the deportation case of Roger Lawrence Strunk, the American partner of Blanca who was the suspect in her death. A former singer and actor, Strunk committed suicide in Tracy, California, in July 2007.

Capture of Palparan

Retired Army Maj. Gen. Jovito Palparan, a former party-list representative, went into hiding after being charged in 2011 with the kidnapping of two University of the Philippines students in 2006.

The administration of President Aquino put up a P2-million reward for information that would lead to the arrest of the former military officer whom human rights campaigners called “The Butcher,” but nothing happened. He was always one step ahead of his pursuers.

Until Vallejo’s Anti-Organized Crime Division joined the hunt, which ended in the early hours of Aug. 12, 2014, not in a secluded place in some province but in a room above a bakery in Manila’s densely populated Sta. Mesa district. Impressed, Palparan surrendered without resistance to Vallejo’s team. He is detained in the NBI jail in Pampanga while undergoing trial.

Before bagging Palparan, Vallejo’s team busted kidnap-for-ransom gangs and a gun-running syndicate operated by soldiers in active service.

Uncovering bomb plot

It was also Vallejo’s team that discovered a plot to bomb Ninoy Aquino International Airport Terminal 3, Mall of Asia and the main office of real estate developer DM Consunji in Makati City last year.

Acting on a tip from an informant, Vallejo’s team followed Grandeur Pepito Guerrero, Emmanuel San Pedro and Sonny Yohanon to the airport on Sept. 1, 2014 and arrested them before they could set off an improvised explosive device at Terminal 3.

The NBI brought charges against the three “commandos” from the group called USA Freedom Fighters of the East (Usaffe), formed by lawyer Ely Pamatong for the retaking of the Spratly island group in the West Philippine Sea from China.

Later the team arrested Pamatong on a warrant not for plotting bomb attacks in Metro Manila but for scattering spikes on Edsa after being disqualified as a presidential candidate in the 2004 elections by the Commission on Elections.

Raid on Bilibid

On Dec. 15 last year, Vallejo’s group, together with De Lima and NBI Director Virgilio Mendez, swooped down on New Bilibid Prison in Muntinlupa City and discovered secret rooms belonging to prominent convicts.

Found during the raid were guns, drugs, cash, jewelry, a Jacuzzi, a strip bar and sex toys. As a result of the obvious corruption in Bilibid, top prison officials were sacked and placed under investigation.

Twenty prominent convicts who owned the secret rooms were moved to NBI headquarters in Manila, ending their luxurious lifestyle in prison.

Vallejo’s division is now investigating the irregularities in Bilibid. More heads are expected to roll after the investigation.

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TAGS: Gen. Jovito Palparan, Jason Ivler, Jovito Palparan, National Bureau of Investigation, NBI, NBI Special Task Force, PDAF, pork barrel scam, pork scam, Priority Development Assistance Fund, Rolando Argabioso, Rommel Vallejo, Ruby Rose Barrameda, Vallejo the Anti-Organized Crime Division
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