Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra on Wednesday said the six-month preventive suspension imposed against more than 80 Bureau of Immigration officers linked in the so-called pastillas scam have already expired.
This paved the way for their return to the BI pending resolution of their cases before the Office of the Ombudsman and the Department of Justice.
Guevarra stressed that the preliminary investigation by the Ombudsman and the administrative proceedings before the DOJ against these BI personnel are still pending resolution before the two agencies.
“These BI personnel have returned to the main office but most of them have not been given assignments while their cases remain pending,” Guevarra said, in a text message to reporters.
“Their six-month preventive suspension has lapsed.They have reported for work at the main office, not at their previous assignments in the airport terminals. Those who were under job order arrangements have been terminated,” he added.
The BI personnel, who had been implicated in the bribery scheme, have returned to work after they finished serving a six-month suspension while the investigation into the scam is underway.
The DOJ chief confirmed this after President Rodrigo Duterte claimed in his final State of the Nation Address (SONA) that he fired 43 BI personnel over the scam.
“The Office of the Ombudsman and the Department of Justice are winding up their investigations,” he stressed.
Guevarra said the DOJ could fire BI personnel under civil service rules.
“It’s the DOJ who appoints immigration officers under the Commonwealth Act that established our immigration agency. We have disciplined so many immigration officers in the past for administrative offenses,” he said.
Last October, the Ombudsman suspended several immigration officers for six months without pay pending investigation into their participation in the pastillas scam, in which Chinese nationals would pay thousands of pesos as bribes to be allowed entry into the country without going through the usual process.
Weeks later, Duterte summoned some 40 BI officers tagged in the scam to Malacañang. During the meeting, he instructed his aide to distribute money wrapped in paper meant to resemble the Filipino dessert.
Duterte said he would have wanted the BI officers to eat money in front of him but decided not to insist out of deference to Guevarra, who was present in the meeting.
Senator Risa Hontiveros, who has been leading the Senate probe into the pastillas scheme, estimated that the racket coupled with the Immigration Bureau’s visa upon arrival system-generated P40 billion worth of bribes.