FOLLOW the money and see where it goes. 

That quote from the Broadway musical Hamilton cannot be more appropriate than in the situation surrounding Chinese gambling tycoon Jack Lam.

Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II recently dropped a bombshell when he announced the government’s decision to allow Lam to return to the country – under certain conditions.

Lam has been on the run since the arrest of over 1,316 illegal Chinese workers allegedly working in an online gambling outfit inside his Fontana Leisure Parks and Casino last year.


Lam on a Comeback Trail?

Following allegations – made by Aguirre – of Lam’s attempts to bribe government officials including the Justice Secretary himself, the gambling tycoon has reportedly fled from the country last November 29.

But to the surprise of many observers who are following the developments on the Jack Lam bribery controversy, reports emanating from the office of Aguirre indicated that he is now willing to allow Lam to return to the country and continue his business operations.

Specifically, Aguirre wants Lam to apply for a license with the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corporation (Pagcor), settle his tax deficiencies and promise “not to corrupt” government officials before he can be allowed to return to the country, according to Aguirre.

Anyare, Aguirre? What made him change his mind? 


Seductive Scent of Cash?

The Justice Secretary’s sudden turnaround certainly raises a hundred million questions.

Given that Aguirre himself exposed the Chinese tycoon’s attempts to bribe him and other government officials, one cannot help but wonder what motivated the Secretary’s change of heart on Lam.

Is this not a classic case of having a cake and eating it too? This time, in much bigger slices. 



Rumors also have it that Aguirre felt cheated by the two former deputy commissioners of the Bureau of Immigration, Al Argosino and Michael Robles, who had earlier admitted to receiving P50 million from Lam’s camp.

Argosino and Robles, the two disgraced BI deputy commissioners, were said to be fraternity brothers of both Aguirre and President Rodrigo Duterte.


Political Color?

Suspicions that Aguirre may be hiding something in the Lam affair also intensified after the Secretary rebuffed efforts from the Senate to hold its own inquiry into the case.

Aguirre even went further by calling Senator Leila de Lima’s clamor for a Senate probe “politically-motivated.”

“Now, there is the political color. It only shows she wants to get back at the people who filed cases against her,” Aguirre said in a recent press conference.

The Secretary also claimed that a complaint has been filed with the Ombudsman and likened the proposed Senate inquiry to “beating a dead horse.”

Whether the probe was politically motivated or not, the fact that the Justice Secretary himself refused to let himself be probed certainly speaks volumes.

What is he afraid of? Is he hiding skeletons in his closet in the Jack Lam case?


President’s Alter Ego

The Justice Secretary’s “forgive-and-forget” attitude in the Lam affair should’ve set alarm bells at the President’s inner circle. 

Allowing a suspected criminal to return to the Philippines without prosecuting him certainly does not jive with President Duterte’s fierce anti-corruption and anti-oligarch stance. 

And in light of the escalating “media war” being waged against the President, Aguirre should have realized that his actions might have inadvertently placed Duterte on the war zone once again.

He ought to know that as the President’s alter ego, his actions whether good or bad are deemed to be his boss’s positions – and would certainly affect the people’s perception on the President.

He’s simply feeding fodder to those who are intent in destroying the President.


The Stonehill Case

Some histories might need to be revisited here.

Aguirre should have looked into the Harry Stonehill affair in the 1960’s to see how a perversion of justice has led to the toppling of a national leader.

Way back in the 1950s, the name Harry Stonehill carried big freight in the Philippines. 

An ex-soldier who came to the Philippines and married a local after the war, Stonehill was soon raking in a $50-million business empire that covered tobacco, construction, glass manufacture and publishing industries.

He was among the top dogs in the local business world and an astute businessman who was used to get what he wanted through shady wheeling and dealings. 

Stonehill was already a wolf even before Jordan Belford the so-called Wolf of Wall Street was born. 

The end, however, came in 1961 when Stonehill’s subordinate Meinhart Spielman blew the whistle on his alleged shady deals with top government officials. 

After an attempt on his life, Meinhart tipped off the authorities on the pervasive corruption Stonehill has sown across the Philippine government.

Then Justice Secretary Ben Diokno then ordered the NBI to raid Stonehill’s Manila offices, carting away truckloads of documents – one in particular which was key to Stonehill’s downfall. 


Blue Book

That document was a “Blue Book” which listed the names of high government officials who allegedly received bribes from the business tycoon. 

The ensuing scandal rocked the nation to its core, especially when it was rumored that then President Diosdado Macapagal, Vice President Emmanuel Pelaez, and Senate President Ferdinand Marcos were among those listed in the Blue Book.

Acting swiftly, Macapagal decided to deport Stonehill from the Philippines on charges of tax evasion, economic sabotage, blackmail and corruption of public officials – conveniently, his enemies charged, even before a Congressional hearing or court trial even took place.

Harry Stonehill – and Macapagal’s actions – proved to be the President’s Waterloo. 

In fact, the Stonehill case was often cited as a principal factor in Marcos’ victory in the 1965 presidential elections.



We’re now seeing some parallels between Harry Stonehill’s and Jack Lam’s cases and how national leaders in their respective times acted on them. 

Both men were foreigners who, through backdoor connections and bribing high government officials, made it big in the Philippines. 

Both men eventually fell from grace after a government raid and were unmasked not as respectable businessmen but as crooks.

And while both cases ended differently, one thing stood out: both men were allowed to escape prosecution.

This is what Aguirre should have thought of before adopting a “forgive-and-forget” attitude in the Lam affair.

Remember, this is a man who allegedly conducted illegal online gambling operations (strike one) using illegal Chinese immigrants (strike two) on property which he allegedly acquired using government connections, in violation of the country’s foreign ownership laws (strike three).

In a baseball game, three strikes mean you’re out of the game, no ifs or buts. And Jack Lam has committed three strikes against the law that should have merited him being prosecuted here in the country.

Why is he being asked back? What gives here?


Tell the Truth

It is not yet too late for Aguirre to shed light on the continuing Jack Lam bribery scandal saga.

All he has to do is reveal everything he knows about the case and not let Lam go-scot free by just asking him to pay his necessary obligations to the government.

He should go one step farther by asking Lam to pay what is due to the government during his long years of operations in the country and then charge him for his crimes in the courts.

That way, he will not be suspected of doing a Stonehill while also saving the President’s neck especially since there are speculations that some groups are plotting to forcibly oust him from office.