MANILA, Philippines – Following a recent scandal involving Bureau of Immigration (BI) officials a Senate resolution was filed seeking to reorganize the agency to make it corruption-resistant. (READ: P50-M extortion? Lam tried to bribe us, say immigration officials)
Senate President Pro-Tempore Franklin Drilon, a former justice secretary, filed Resolution 256 on Thursday, December 15, directing the Senate committee on civil service and government reorganization to look into the matter. The committee is chaired by Senator Antonio Trillanes IV.
Drilon said there is a “pressing need” to address the institutional weaknesses of the agency by establishing stronger standards for selection of officers and more stringent system for discipline.
While he acknowledged the measures taken to curb corruption, such as the reshuffling of airport immigration staff, he said these are “inadequate.”
“It has therefore become imperative to explore the possible reorganization of the BI to carry out immigration reforms designed to make the agency resistant to corruption,” Drilon said in the resolution.
Drilon filed the resolution days after BI Deputy Commissioners Al Argosino and Michael Robles admitted receiving P50 million from gambling tycoon Jack Lam through the latter's representative, Wally Sombero.
Sombero accused the officials of extortion for the release of nearly 600 of the 1,300 Chinese nationals detained by the BI after they were found illegally working at Lam's casino in Clark Freeport, Pampanga.
Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II recommended their dismissal and also relieved BI intelligence chief Charles Calima following the allegations. Argosino and Robles, who claimed they accepted the money as part of an "investigation" into Lam, denied the allegation and accused Lam of bribery.
“The brazen act of corruption…by high-ranking immigration officials bolsters the perception of a deeply entrenched culture of corruption in the BI and underscores the magnitude of the institutional problem that needs to be addressed and runs counter to the stern and unforgiving anti-corruption of President Duterte,” the senator said.
Argosino and Robles are fraternity brothers of Aguirre and Duterte at the Lex Talionis Fraternitas, Inc.
Pimentel backs Aguirre amid corruption
Senate President Aquilino Pimentel III expressed support for his partymate, Aguirre, despite corruption issues hounding BI, an attached agency of the Department of Justice.
“As PDP Laban President, I am proud of my partymate, Vit (Aguirre). I, and the rest of the party, believe in his integrity and welcome his actions to support President Duterte’s war against corruption,” said Pimentel in a statement on Wednesday, December 14.
Pimentel shared Drilon’s view that a revamp and modernization of the agency are needed. The best time to do these, he said, is under Aguirre – a staunch ally of the President.
“Obviously, the problems faced by BI is systemic and needs a systemic solution. There is no better time for a revamp than now, when Vit is on top of things and there is a chance to shed light on all the anomalous activities within the agency.” – Rappler.com
Camille Elemia is Rappler's lead reporter for media, disinformation, and democracy. She won an ILO award in 2017. She received the prestigious Fulbright-Hubert Humphrey fellowship in 2019, allowing her to further study media and politics in the US. Email firstname.lastname@example.org