MANILA (UPDATE) – The Supreme Court on Tuesday required the Office of the Ombudsman and the National Bureau of Investigation to comment on the motion of former police official Wally Sombero to be provisionally released from detention amid the threat of the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19).
Sombero is facing plunder, graft and other charges at the Sandiganbayan over his alleged involvement in the P50-million bribery scandal involving immigration officials and Chinese businessman Jack Lam for the release of 1,000 illegal Chinese workers in 2017.
“The Court resolves to require the Respondents, without necessarily giving due course to petitioner’s Urgent Motion for Provisional Release from Detention Due to COVID-19, to file their comment within a non-extendible period of seven (7) days, or until April 24, 2020,” the resolution dated April 17 posted on the Supreme Court’s website Saturday said.
Aside from Sombero, also facing the same charges are former immigration deputy commissioners Al Argosino and Michael Robles, who were caught on CCTV inside a casino in Parañaque City carrying paper bags where the bribe money was supposedly hidden.
Both Argosino and Robles admitted receiving the money from Sombero, who represented Lam, although they claimed they accepted the money as evidence of corruption.
The Sandiganbayan had previously denied Argosino and Robles’ bail plea while Sombero asked the Supreme Court to halt the anti-graft court’s proceedings.
Sombero, who is currently detained at the Metro Manila District Jail Annex in Camp Bagong Diwa, Taguig, filed his motion with the Supreme Court via email on Thursday, April 16, through his lawyer Laurence Arroyo.
He cited old age and poor health. He is 64 years old.
“Not only is petitioner elderly or a senior citizen, he is also afflicted with a host of ailments that make him susceptible to severe illness or death if infected by COVID-19. He has been diagnosed as having coronary artery disease, cardiac dysrhythmia, sick sinus syndrome, severe sleep apnea, and exogenous obesity. He also has type 2 diabetes milletus,” his urgent motion said.
“To date, he has suffered two heart attacks and has undergone two coronary stenting procedures. These are the very illnesses identified by the experts as most likely to cause persons to develop the severe or critical form of COVID-19,” it added, providing a letter from the BJMP to the Sandiganbayan and a medical certificate from the Veterans Memorial Medical Center showing his medical condition.
He claimed he is not a flight risk, having served as a decorated police officer who retired as police chief superintendent (equivalent to 1-star general).
Sotero also mentioned news reports of a BJMP personnel who tested positive for COVID-19 and several inmates under both the BJMP and the Bureau of Corrections who were isolated due to suspicion of having acquired the virus.
On the same day the Supreme Court magistrates discussed Sombero’s and another petition by 22 inmates seeking their temporary release from different jail also because of COVID-19, the Department of the Interior and Local Government announced in a press conference that 9 inmates and 9 personnel at a BJMP jail in Quezon City had tested positive for the virus.
In its April 17 order, the Supreme Court required the Ombudsman and the NBI to take the necessary interim measures required under various laws and other issuances relevant to the COVID-19 national emergency, including the Bayanihan to Heal as One Act, and to submit a verified report about their compliance to the SC.
The SC also issued a similar order to respondent-government agencies in the other petition seeking the release of political, sick and elderly prisoners in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.