Sandigan throws out plea of ex-immigration officials

    3521

    THE Sandiganbayan anti-graft court has thrown out the bid of former Bureau of Immigration (BI) deputy commissioners Al C. Argosino and Michael B. Robles to seek outright dismissal of criminal charges filed against them for plunder, graft, direct bribery, and unlawful acceptance of gifts.

    In separate resolutions dated August 28 and Sept. 15, 2020, the Sandiganbayan Sixth Division denied the motions filed by the defendants seeking leave of court to file demurrers to evidence challenging the sufficiency of the prosecution’s evidence to establish their guilt.

    A separate motion by a third defendant, former police officer Wenceslao Sombero, seeking similar relief on the ground that there was absence of proof of conspiracy between him and the two BI officials was likewise thrown out.

    Sombero argued that he could not have conspired with Argosino and Robles since he was the one who provided incriminating information against them as the “highly reliable source” of Immigration Intelligence chief Charles Calima.

    Argosino and Robles were accused of accepting P50 million in bribe on Nov. 27, 2016 for their alleged intervention and assistance in the release of 1,316 undocumented Chinese nationals.

    The illegal aliens were rounded up on Nov. 25, 2016 by immigration agents for lack of government work permits while being employed in an online gambling operation in Fontana Leisure Parks and Casino in Pampanga.

    Associate Justices Sarah Jane T. Fernandez, Karl B. Miranda, and Zaldy V. Trespeses were unanimous in declaring that allowing the defendants to challenge the sufficiency of the prosecution’s testimonial and documentary evidence would serve no purpose other than prolong the case.

    Invoking the Supreme Court’s ruling in the 1997 case of Bernard v. Court of Appeals, the Sandiganbayan pointed out that it has the discretion to deny a demurrer to evidence once it has made a determination that the defendant’s motion is only a ploy to stall proceedings.

    “After a careful examination of the prosecution’s evidence and the arguments in the accused’ respective motions, this Court rules that granting the accused leave to file demurrers to evidence will accomplish nothing but delay proceedings,” the Sandiganbayan said in the August 28 resolution.

    The defense assailed the said resolution saying the Sandiganbayan failed to discuss the grounds for its pronouncement that they are only trying to delay the trial.

    Argosino claimed the court denied him his right to determine whether or not government lawyers were able to discharge their burden of presenting evidence beyond reasonable doubt.

    Robles likewise pointed out that the court’s dismissal of his motion as a mere delaying tactic is groundless as he is in detention and any delay would only work against his interest.

    He insisted that his motion was based on an honest belief that the prosecution’s evidence failed to prove the allegations against him.

    Sombero also denied trying to stall the proceedings as he pointed out that the filing of a demurrer to evidence is a legal option available to him as a defendant since, if granted, it will abbreviate the process and would be tantamount to an acquittal.

    In its Consolidated Opposition, the prosecution asked that the August 28 resolution be affirmed as it stressed that the evidence on record established all the elements of the crimes charged.

    The Sandiganbayan said that by denying the defendant leave of court, it is requiring them to present their own evidence in support of their pleas of innocence.

    “Only after the presentation of accused’ evidence or their filing of their respective demurrers to evidence without leave of court will this Court render its judgment on the merits of the present cases and dispose of the same. This court finds nothing that would warrant the reversal of the assailed resolution,” the court said.