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‘Pastillas’ payola triggers BI revamp

A reshuffle has taken effect at the Immigration bureau covering those assigned at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport following an expose’ on the so-called “pastillas scheme” in which bureau personnel receives kickbacks to facilitate the entry of Chinese nationals who pay a “service fee” of P10,000 per head.

“I have implemented an immediate total revamp of our airport personnel, all terminal heads, and all Travel Control and Enforcement Unit heads," Immigration commissioner Jaime Morente said.  

In related developments:

The Bureau of Immigration has ordered a probe on its personnel allegedly accepting bribes in exchange for escorting Chinese nationals working in Philippine Offshore Gaming Operators or POGOs.

“Commissioner Morente is deeply alarmed at the exposés of the good Senator Risa Hontiveros during today’s [Monday’s] Senate hearing. He has ordered a full-blown investigation to identify those who are

possibly part of this syndicate and to file both administrative and criminal cases against them,” BI spokesman  Dana Sandoval said Monday.

“A cat-and-mouse operation” is the best way to describe the operations of prostitution dens in hotels, KTVs and other business establishments catering to POGO workers whose bribes to corrupt officials were estimated to reach P10 billion, Hontiveros said. 

Interviewed after the Senate hearing on the prostitution and trafficking of women and eve children, Hontiveros admitted that some establishments continued to operate  after authorities shut down their operations. 

“The PNP and the NBI were after them during raids. Those involved in the trafficking and prostituting of women and children who were later illegally detained or sexually harassed were even arrested,” Hontiveros said.

The recent issues hounding the Philippine Offshore Gaming Operators will prod the government to rethink its policies on foreign businesses and the influx of Chinese workers, the Palace said Tuesday, but added that it will not act on the allegations unless there are complaints.

Presidential Spokesman Salvador Panelo said the administration was not turning a blind eye on the reported corrupt practices, prostitution and tax evasion committed by POGOs.

“If those will be proven, then there is something wrong with the operation of the POGOs. The government has to do something about it. Until such time, the presumption is they’re performing a regular task in accordance with the law,” Panelo said. 

Morente on Monday ordered a full-blown investigation on the modus operandi, which the erring immigration officers all referred to as “something sweet.” 

He said he had already issued an order creating a fact-finding committee led by Deputy Commissioner Tobias Javier to conduct the probe.

Morente wants the report to be on his desk on or before the end of the month.

Morente’s move came on the heels of a Senate hearing presided by Hontiveros who questioned immigration officials on the matter.

Hontiveros, who leads the Senate committee on women, children, family relations and gender equality presented shots of alleged conversations among immigration officers with the names of Chinese nationals whose entry they reportedly facilitated.

“I am deeply alarmed hearing reports from the good Senator Risa Hontiveros that this escorting modus is still persistent in our airports,” Morente said.  

“I have ordered a full-blown investigation to know if such corrupt practices still exist, and to find out who are possibly part of this syndicate to file both administrative and criminal cases against them.”

Morente said they will immediately coordinate with the office of Hontiveros to request more information on the issue.

“We are not taking this lightly. We have spent the last four years implementing reforms to clean up the system. For the past year, we have denied the entry of 7,724 foreign nationals in our intensified drive against undesirable aliens. This issue is a major blow to the bureau and to our efforts.”

Morente said they had already requested the Department of Justice and the National Bureau of Investigation to investigate alleged malpractices at the airports.  

He said that on Jan. 22, the NBI was already directed by the DOJ to conduct a case buildup on the “alleged involvement of BI officials and personnel in human trafficking and escort services”.

“This is a welcome probe as we are one with the DOJ in our goal of cleaning up our ranks,” said Morente.  

He added that during his entire administration, the BI had dismissed and suspended at least 70 BI men for various offenses, while more than 200 cases had been filed against erring personnel.

“We will not take this sitting down.  As seen in past cases against erring personnel, we will not hesitate to impose harsh penalties to those who are found to be committing corrupt practices.

“The directive of the President is clear. Eliminate corruption, and this is what I intend to do.” With Macon Ramos Araneta and MJ Blancaflor

Topics: Ninoy Aquino International Airport , “pastillas scheme” , Chinese nationals , Bureau of Immigration
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