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Tuesday, July 23, 2024

SC approves transfer of convicts involved in Jack Lam bribery case

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The Supreme Court (SC) has paved the way for the transfer to the New Bilibid Prisons (NBP) in Muntinlupa City of the two fraternity brothers of former President Duterte and a retired policeman who were sentenced to 50 years in prison by the Sandiganbayan last year after being found guilty of plunder and graft in connection with the P50-million Jack Lam bribery scandal.

In an eight-page resolution, the SC’s First Division denied the separate motions filed by former Bureau of Immigration Deputy Commissioners Al Argosino and Michael Robles and retired policeman Wenceslao “Wally” Sombero Jr. seeking the reversal of Sandiganbayan’s decision issued on July 9, 2021, denying their plea for continued detention at the Metro Manila District Jail at Camp Bagong Diwa (MMDJ), Taguig City, pending the resolution of their appeals with finality.

The Sandiganbayan held that Argosino, Robles, and Sombero are national prisoners because their maximum prison terms consist of 40 years (plunder)  and 10 years (graft).

Consequently, the Sandiganbayan issued an order of commitment for their transfer to the NBP in Muntinlupa.

In their appeal filed before the SC, the petitioners asked for the issuance of a special order suspending their transfer to the NBP, invoking “humanitarian and compassionate considerations.”

They cited the surge of the COVID-19 “Delta” variant as reason, along with their health conditions which allegedly make them susceptible to the lethal effects of the COVID-19 virus.

In his appeal, Sombero said he is 65 years old and suffers from several ailments such as coronary artery disease, cardiac dysrhythmia, sick sinus syndrome, severe sleep apnea, exogenous obesity, and type 2 diabetes mellitus.

Argosino, for his part, claimed that he has hypertension and diabetes while Robles manifested that he is suffering from cardiac dysrhythmia hypertension and hyperthyroidism.

They argued hat the Court’s ruling in Enrile v. Sandiganbayan should be applied to their cases on humanitarian grounds.

The accused-appellants asked the  Court to consider the Covid-19 pandemic as the special and compelling circumstance in granting their prayer to suspend their transfer to the NBP.

However, the SC did not give weight to the reasons raised by the accused-appellants  in seeking their stay at Camp Bagong Diwa pending the final resolution of their appeal.

It agreed with the Sandiganbayan that they are considered national inmates under the Bureau of Corrections Act of 2013  as they were sentenced by the Sandiganbayan to prison terms exceeding three years.

“Being national prisoners, the Sandiganbayan was correct in ordering the transfer of accused-appellants from the MMDJ, a local jail, to the NBP in Muntinlupa City, which is the national penitentiary managed by the Bureau of Corrections,” the SC said.

Unlike in Enrile’s case, the SC pointed that the accused-appellants are not mere detainees asking to be released on bail pending trial.

“They are national prisoners, who, upon conviction of violation of R.A. 3019 and plunder, are no longer presumed innocent,” the SC explained.

“Moreover, their allegations pertaining to their health conditions, and the documents showing the medical findings of their doctors, are questions of fact which are not within the province of the court to

determine. Neither can the Court take judicial notice of their medical conditions,” the Court said.

The high court noted that the Department of Health has recorded a downward trend in the number of Covid-19 cases in the country already.

“On account of the positive developments in the country’s battle against Covid-19, charting towards ‘herd immunity’ this Court finds no compelling reason to suspend the transfer of accused-appellants to the National Penitentiary,” the SC stressed.

Argosino and Robles, who are fraternity brothers of Duterte at Lex Talionis, were accused of receiving  P50 million from Lam, a Chinese gambling tycoon, in exchange for freeing over 1,300 undocumented Chinese workers at his casino in Clark, Pampanga in 2016.

Sombrero was accused of acting as the middle between Lam and the two former BI deputy commissioners.

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