Beat plunder charge by subtracting P1,000 from P50-M threshold
What can P1,000 buy two former officials of the Bureau of Immigration (BI)? Freedom from being detained if the charges against them are downgraded from plunder to graft and direct bribery.
A P1,000 bill was missing from the P50 million in cash that former Deputy Commissioners Michael Robles and Al Argosino handed over to the Department of Justice (DOJ), which they received from casino mogul Jack Lam.
The threshold amount for the charge of plunder, a nonbailable offense, is P50 million.
Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon on Wednesday called on the Office of the President to initiate an independent probe into the loss of P1,000 from the P50 million retrieved in an alleged extortion or bribery attempt by the two former BI officials.
Drilon said the loss of the amount allowed Robles and Argosino to elude plunder charges.
The National Bureau of Investigation, which was ordered by the DOJ to investigate the alleged extortion or bribery, had instead recommended the filing of graft and direct bribery charges against the two.
Senators were stunned when they were informed that the bribe money supposedly intended for the release of more than 1,300 illegal Chinese workers arrested during a raid on Lam’s casino in Pampanga province in November last year was P1,000 short of a plunder case.
Drilon asked the status of Robles and Argosino’s case during floor deliberations on the proposed 2018 budget of the DOJ on Tuesday.
Citing Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II, who attended the deliberation, Sen. Loren Legarda, chair of the finance committee, told Drilon that the two former BI commissioners were dismissed and that P49,999,000 was surrendered.
“Are you kidding? Amazing,” Legarda said when Aguirre updated her on the case.
Of the amount, P29,999,000 was in the custody of the DOJ, P2 million in the Office of the Ombudsman, and P18 million in the Criminal Investigation and Detection Group.
Robles and Argosino are fraternity brothers of Aguirre and President Duterte.
Not a joke
Legarda initially thought Aguirre’s disclosure was a joke. “It’s a joke. Oh? It’s not a joke?” she said, confirming it with the justice secretary.
Still quoting Aguirre, Legarda told Drilon that a bank had counted the money and it was short of P1,000.
“Both of us are amused but this is no laughing matter. This is a deliberate attempt to escape plunder charges because plunder is not bailable,” Drilon said.
In an interview with reporters, he said the Office of the President should look into the matter, noting that the DOJ is not the proper agency to investigate it.
He said it was up to Mr. Duterte since there were people from the DOJ involved in the case.
“I call on the Office of the President or the Ombudsman to conduct an independent probe as to this very amateur way of obstructing justice,” Drilon said.
“Obviously there is obstruction of justice because P1,000 was subtracted from the P50 million so that it will not be considered plunder … . I condemn in the strongest possible term this mockery of justice that we are seeing,” the minority leader said.
During the plenary deliberation, Drilon said the circumstances were “totally inconsistent” with human experience.
“If you ask for a bribe, would you ask for P49,999,000 only?… Incidentally, P50 million is the threshold for plunder,” he noted.
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