At least 50 officials and employees of the Bureau of Immigration link to the “Pastillas” bribery scandal on Friday pleaded not guilty to graft charges filed against them at the Sandiganbayan.
This came after the anti-graft court granted the state prosecutors’ motion to amend the criminal information removing Immigration Officer III Jeffrey Ignacio as one of the accused.
Ignacio was a self-confessed member of the “Pastillas” group who eventually became a whistleblower.
“With the amended information, the court gives the prosecution and the defense to file their pre-trial brief within 10 days, if they so wish,” Sandiganbayan 7th Division chairman and Associate Justice Zaldy Trespeses said.
Pre-trial brief is a documentary evidence that the parties will have to present during the trial proper.
Of the 50 respondents, 35 entered a not-guilty plea. The 15 others, including former Immigration deputy commissioner Marc Mariñas, entered no plea, prompting the anti-graft court to enter a not guilty plea for them.
Mariñas’ counsel Joel Ferrer said his client entered no plea as their camp is questioning the Sandiganbayan’s jurisdiction on his client.
“The court only took jurisdiction on him based on the information [filed by the prosecutors] that he is Salary Grade 27. He is just Salary Grade 15. He was [just] appointed officer-in-charge of the Office of the Deputy Commissioner,” Ferrer said in an interview.
It can be recalled that in February 2020, the Senate conducted an investigation on the infamous “Pastillas scheme” perpetrated within the ranks of the BI, an agency under the DOJ.
The illegal activity was called Pastillas scheme because the bribe money in exchange for the illicit entry of foreign nationals, was supposedly rolled up in a manner that resembles a pastillas de leche treat, a popular Filipino milk- based candy.
Under the Pastillas scheme, favored foreigners are facilitated through the Immigration process in consideration of the bribe money.