Since 2017 P40 billion have been pocketed by the masterminds of a “business model” at the Bureau of Immigration, Senator Risa Hontiveros said on Tuesday.
The amount, Hontiveros said, came from facilitating the arrivals of Chinese nationals through the so-called Visa Upon Arrival or VUA and the “pastillas scam” or non-VUA transactions.
“There’s corruption in every corner of the Bureau of Immigration. In the ‘pastillas’ scam, we estimated that the masterminds got P30 billion based on the arrival data of Chinese nationals that are non-VUA,” Hontiveros said during the continuation of the Senate hearing on corruption at Immigration.
“In VUA, another revenue stream, the kickbacks go straight into the pockets of some officials.”
Hontiveros said based on Immigration data, about 4 million Chinese nationals had entered the country since 2017.
“The numbers are staggering. For the sake of comparison, 4 million Chinese nationals arriving here since 2017 is comparable to more than the entire population of Quezon City. Why is the number of Chinese entering the country more than the number of Quezon City residents?” Hontiveros said.
Of the 4 million Chinese, she said, around 3.8 million were non-VUA applicants while around 150,000 were VUA applicants. Around 3 million of those non-VUA applicants were believed to have paid the extra P10,000 service fee in the ‘pastillas’ scam.
According to whistleblowers Alex Chiong and Dale Ignacio, the masterminds of the scam take part of the bribe money.
Again facing the hearing of the Committee on Women, Children, Family Relations and Gender Equality, Ignacio maintained there was a so-called pyramid structure in the scam with former Immigration Ports Operation Division Chief Marc Red Mariñas on top of it.
This was corroborated by another Immigration Officer I, Allison Chiong, and Emeterio Dongallo, head of the National Bureau of Investigation-Special Action Unit.
“In Pastillas, money is entering the airport, then the IO [Immigration Officer] they’re giving to. Before he resigned, Red Mariñas was in charge as chief of Ports Operations Division,” Hontiveros said.
Meanwhile, when it came to the questionable VUA transactions, the bribe allegedly went straight to the main office, where the visas were approved.
After being cited in contempt in the Oct. 6 hearing, Marc Red and Maynardo Marinas attended the hearing.
Responding to Hontiveros’ query, Marc Red Mariñas admitted he visited night clubs “upon invitations” with his batch mates who were tagged in the “pastillas scheme.”
Hontiveros, however, said Red and Maynardo were appointed heads of their respective divisions in July 2016 by then Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre.
About a year later, in 2017, Aguirre issued Department Order 41 that allowed citizens of the People’s Republic of China to enter the Philippines without having previously obtained a visa from the Department of Foreign Affairs.
The issuance of D.O. 41 and the appointment of Mariñas at gatekeeper positions at Immigration opened the floodgates for the almost uncontrolled entry of Chinese nationals into the country.
The Senate Committee on Women, Children, Family Relations and Gender Equality Committee initially sought to probe prostitution and slave-like conditions related to the rise of POGOs.