Retired cop in plunder case jailed
Fearing for their lives if kept in a city jail, former Deputy Commissioners Al Argosino and Michael Robles of the Bureau of Immigration, as well as alleged middleman Wenceslao Sombero, have asked the Sandiganbayan to be detained at the Philippine National Police Custodial Center in Camp Crame.
Argosino and Robles were ordered detained on Tuesday at the Sandiganbayan for the nonbailable offense of plunder just as they were posting bail for charges of graft, bribery and violation of the ban on receiving gifts.
They were accused of demanding P50 million from Macau-based gaming tycoon Jack Lam on Nov. 27, 2016. The money was supposedly in exchange for the release of 1,316 Chinese nationals who worked for Lam in a casino at the Clark Freeport Zone without proper visas.
Sombero, president of Asian Gaming Service Provider Association, was included in the plunder charge because he allegedly delivered the money on Lam’s behalf.
Lam was charged only with violating the law against giving gifts to public employees.
A day after the detention of his two coaccused in the plunder case, Sombero surrendered at the PNP headquarters in Camp Crame to incoming PNP chief, Director Oscar Albayalde, currently the head of the Metro Manila police.
Sombero, a former police senior superintendent, was turned over to the custody of his old unit, the Criminal Investigation and Detection Group (CIDG).
Fear of retribution
In their motion to be transferred to the PNP’s custody, Argosino and Robles said they feared that suspects arrested under President Duterte’s brutal war on drugs and held by the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology (BJMP) would harm them because they were fraternity brothers of Mr. Duterte.
“The presence of both accused together with other ‘Tokhang’ detainees also poses serious danger to other detainees,” the former immigration officials said, using the official term for the antidrug campaign (literally “knock and plead”).
Argosino noted that as a lawyer for 20 years, he may have sent his opponents to the BJMP. Robles was a public prosecutor for 10 years as well.
In his motion, Sombero said that as a retired police senior superintendent who headed several anticrime task forces, he could be “lumped together with the very criminals whom he helped arrest and get convicted.”
Host of ailments
Sombero also claimed to be suffering from a host of ailments, including “coronary artery disease, cardiac dysrhythmia, sick sinus syndrome, severe sleep apnea and exogenous obesity.”
Adding that he was diabetic, Sombero said being detained in the PNP facility would ensure prompt medical attention at nearby PNP General Hospital.
But for now, the court’s Sixth Division said the order for the three plunder defendants to be committed to the Quezon City Jail annex in Camp Bagong Diwa, Taguig City, “remains” in effect.
During a hearing on Wednesday, division chair Associate Justice Sarah Jane Fernandez gave the Ombudsman and the PNP Custodial Center the chance to air their side in 24 hours.
While the issue was pending, Fernandez directed BJMP Director Deogracias Tapayan, the administrator of Camp Bagong Diwa, to “ensure the security and safety” of the three accused.
No provisional liberty
During the same hearing, the court rejected a motion by Sombero’s lawyer, Laurence Arroyo, for provisional liberty while it resolves his motion to quash the plunder charge.
Arroyo argued that the warrant of arrest “presupposes the determination of the offense of plunder,” which was the issue raised in his motion to quash that questions the sufficiency of the Ombudsman’s March 23 indictment.
But Fernandez pointed out that the court had already found probable cause for the purposes of issuing an arrest warrant.
After the hearing, Sombero was brought to Camp Bagong Diwa. –Reports from Vince F. Nonato and Jeannette I. Andrade
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