Senate reprimands Aguirre for private meeting with Jack Lam

MANILA, Philippines – The Senate on Tuesday, March 20, adopted the Senate blue ribbon committee report on the Bureau of Immigration (BI) bribery scandal, hitting Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II for privately meeting with Chinese gaming tycoon Jack Lam.

The report, prepared by committee chairman Richard Gordon and submitted on December 12, 2017, ordered Aguirre to "explain thoroughly" why he met with Lam and the tycoon's alleged associate Wally Sombero on November 26, 2016 at a hotel and discussed the arrest of Chinese nationals in Pampanga. (READ: Senate BI bribery probe: 3 hard questions for Aguirre)

"Aguirre was less than prudent in dealing with the situation. Here he met with persons who, a few hours later, turned out to be 'bribers' of public officers. He should have possessed sufficient foresight – not to deal privately with people who have pending cases with the Department he heads," the report states.

The Senate also hit Aguirre for "failing to monitor the influx of illegal aliens into the country, more so with [their] illegal activities."

The chamber added that while it may be believable that Aguirre was only "ambushed" by Sombero, the Department of Justice (DOJ) chief should have been more careful. His move goes against Republic Act (RA) No. 6713 or the Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Public Officials and Employees.

"Prudence also dictates that [he] should refrain from dealing or talking with persons whose questionable activities were under investigation by his Department," the report reads.

The Senate also recommended amending RA 6713 to prohibit public officials from meeting any person who has a pending matter before his or her agency outside his or her office.

The findings, however, contradicted Gordon's earlier statement that he saw nothing improper with what Aguirre did. The senator earlier said the venue was "public," even if Aguirre admitted the meeting took place in a private room at the hotel.

"So far, no [propriety issue]. Maraming tao eh. In a public place. Ang hirit sa kanya nahihirapan na ang mga tao – walang comfort room. Puwedeng pakiusapan siya do'n," Gordon earlier said.

(So far, no [propriety issue]. There were many people there. In a public place. He was asked to meet about the status of the detainees – the absence of a comfort room for them. They could appeal to him there.)

During the hearing, it was unclear why Aguirre chose to meet with Lam given the circumstances.

Aguirre only said the hotel was the same venue of the San Beda College of Law's awarding ceremony, which he was also scheduled to attend.

At the time, Aguirre was with former BI commissioner Al Argosino, one of the two fraternity brothers of Aguirre and President Rodrigo Duterte accused of receiving bribe money from Lam.

In the same hearing, Argosino said that Aguirre, upon leaving the hotel room to catch the San Beda event, directed him to oversee the meeting with Sombero.

Aguirre, who left the Senate hearing early, was not able to explain why he gave the order. That meeting, which extended until past 5 am the following day, prompted the initial P50-million payout to Argosino and former BI commissioner Michael Robles from Lam through Sombero.

The Senate recommended the filing of bribery and plunder charges against Argosino and Robles. – Rappler.com

Camille Elemia

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 camille.elemia@rappler.com

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