The Department of Justice has sacked 18 Bureau of Immigration (BI) officers and employees for their involvement in the so-called “pastillas scheme.”
Justice Assistant Secretary and spokesman Neil Bainto said that in a resolution, the DOJ found the 18 BI personnel administratively liable for grave misconduct, gross neglect of duty, and conduct prejudicial to the best interest of the service.
Bainto said the respondents were found to have facilitated and allowed the facilitation of the arrival and departure of Chinese nationals without undergoing appropriate immigration formalities “for a consideration” – in the form of peso bills rolled in paper to resemble “pastillas de leche,” a popular local milk-based candy.
Under the scheme, some Chinese allegedly entered the Philippines as tourists, and later worked for Philippine Offshore Gaming Operations hubs, paying immigration personnel around P10,000 each.
“The 18 respondents have been meted the penalty of dismissal from the service, with the imposition of the proper accessory penalties,” Bainto said.
Ordered dismissed from the service include BI overall head of Border Control Intelligence Unit Erwin Ortañez, Terminal Head-Travel Control and Enforcement Unit Glenn Ford Comia, Francis Robles, Rodolfo Magbuhos Jr., Deon Carlo Albao, Danieve Binsol, Paul Erik Borja, Abdul Fahad Calaca;
Anthony Lopez, Gabriel Ernest Estacio, Chevy Chase Naniong, Danilo Deudor, Ralph Ryan Garcia, Phol Villanueva, Fidel Mendoza, Benlando Guevarra, Bradford Allen So, and Cecille Jonathan Orozco.
The decision came out several days after the Office of the Ombudsman filed graft charges before the Sandiganbayan against 42 BI officers and a Chinese national who owns a travel agency, also in connection with the pastillas scheme.
The graft information stated that the respondents conspired in perpetrating the pastillas scheme, which was exposed by Senator Risa Hontiveros in February 2020, prompting the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) to conduct an extensive probe on the illegal activity.
Charged for graft by the Ombudsman were BI Deputy Commissioner for Port Operations Division Marc Red Mariñas, Acting Chief of Port Operations Divisions Grifton San Pedro Medina, Ortañez and Comia.
But Mariñas and Medina were not among those investigated for possible administrative liability by the Fact-Finding Investigation Committee (FFIC) created by the BI.
“The FFIC recommended the conduct of a formal administrative investigation against the 18 respondents, and upon formal charge and the ensuing hearing of the case, all 18 respondents were found administratively liable. Marc Red Mariñas and Grifton Medina were not among those investigated by this FFIC,” Bainto explained.
“The latter two are instead included in the Ombudsman-FIO (Field Investigation Office) case or the complaint filed by the NBI also before the Ombudsman,” the DOJ official said.
Under the scheme, upon the arrival of foreign nationals at the airport, immigration officers involved were under instructions to allow them entry into the country without instituting the necessary checks, screening, or profiling, as what is standard for arriving non-Filipinos.