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SC ok'd transfer to Bilibid of Duterte's convicted two frat brods

August 19, 2022 - Friday 7:08 PM by Antonio Hernandez

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The Supreme Court (SC) has given the go-signal for the transfer to the New Bilibid Prison (NBP) of two fraternity brothers of former president Rodrigo Duterte convicted by the Sandiganbayan last year in connection with the P50 million Jack Lam bribery scandal. 

With this, the bid of former Bureau of Immigration (BI) Deputy Commissioners Al Argosino and Michael Robles and retired police officer Wenceslao "Wally" Sombero Jr. to stay at the Metro Manila District Jail (MMDJ) at Camp Bagong Diwa Taguig City was denied by the SC's First Division. 

The three were convicted in 2021 by the Sandiganbayan for plunder and violating section 3(e) of Republic Act 3019 or the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act. 

They were sentenced to reclusion perpetua or 40 years in prison for the plunder case, and jailed for up to 10 years for graft, for a total of 50 years. 

As national prisoners or prisoners serving sentences beyond three years, the Sandiganbayan also ordered their transfer to the NBP. 

But the three contested their transfer. 

The three told the SC of the different ailments and health conditions they are suffering. 

In asking that the SC allow their stay at the MMDJ, they invoked the Court's ruling when it allowed former senator Juan Ponce Enrile to post bail despite facing plunder charges. 

They also cited the surge in COVID-19 "Delta variant" cases as the reason, which along with their health conditions, make them more susceptible to the lethal effects of the coronavirus if they are transferred to the NBP. 

However, the SC sustained the Sandiganbayan's ruling and said as national prisoners, they ought to be detained and serve their sentence at the NBP. 

"As held in Obugan vs People and Basilonia vs Judge Villaruz if the penalty imposed requires the service of sentence in the National Penitentiary and the convicted accused is already in detention, the trial court should immediately order the transfer of national prisoners to the NBP," the SC said. 

"This ministerial duty of issuing the mittimus or commitment order must be accomplished despite the filing of a notice of appeal," the SC added. 

The SC said, unlike Enrile, the three are already convicted and sentenced by the Court and are no longer presumed innocents. 

"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," the SC explained. 

As to the overcrowding of inmates in the NBP, the SC said it understands their concern that they might get infected with COVID-19. Still, it is "not peculiar" to them because regardless of age or health, all inmates are vulnerable to the coronavirus because of congestion in prison cells. 

"This institutional problem must be addressed. However, the condition is not sufficient for the Court to grant the relief sought by them on purely equitable grounds," it said. 

The SC also said the number of COVID cases had gone down and that even the Bureau of Corrections (BuCor) has already lifted its opposition to the transfer of inmates to the NBP. 

At the height of the pandemic, the SC ordered trial courts to suspend the issuance of commitment orders to the NBP upon the request of BuCor Director General Gerald Bantag to prevent the spread of the virus in the congested prison cells.  
Argosino and Robles, fraternity brothers of Duterte in the Lex Taliones Fraternity, were convicted of receiving P50 million from Lam in exchange for the release of over 1, 000 Chinese workers employed in the latter's casino in Pampanga. 

The workers were arrested for working without the proper documents in a joint operation by the immigration and police. 

Sombero was accused for acting as the middleman of Lam and Argosino, and Robles.     

A Senate probe showed that the two former immigration officials received money from Sombero.   

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