Former airport officials and employees of the Bureau of Immigration are behind the “pastillas” system by which Chinese workers and fugitives enter the country by paying bribes, a whistleblower said Thursday.
In a Senate hearing on human trafficking and prostitution, Immigration officer Allison Chiong said these officials were behind the syndicate that facilitated the smooth entry of Chinese nationals who enter the country to work in Philippine Offshore Gaming Operators.READ: ‘Sex dens inside hotels, condos cater to POGOs’
Chiong said these groups worked with China-based travel agencies, who send them a list of names of people who are about to enter the country.
“The syndicated groups would often compete with each other to gain favor from the Chinese travel agencies,” Chiong said.
He revealed that they gave bribes ranging from P50,000 and P200,000 so that the Chinese nationals—even those that have been blacklisted—can freely enter the country, passing through Immigration counters without any question.
He said the syndicated groups were under Ports Operations Division Chief Marc Red Mariñas and headed by officials who occupy various plantilla positions within the Bureau of Immigration. He named them as Totoy Magbuhos, Deon Albao (alias Nancy), Paul Borja (alias Lisa), Anthony Lopez (alias AL), and Dennis Robles (alias DR).
He earlier provided the panel chaired by Senator Risa Hontiveros videos showing how border control officials accepted bribes from Chinese tour operators in exchange for the “seamless” entry of some Chinese nationals seeking to work in POGOs.
The system was called “pastillas,” because bribes are sometimes rolled in paper resembling a popular sweet delicacy.
Chiong also described pastillas as Chinese money wrapped in plastic.
He also spoke of “pastillas time” when huge amounts of money were distributed.
Hontiveros said she was informed by Senate President Vicente Sotto III that Chiong will be granted immunity as a whistleblower and be put under the government’s Witness Protection Program.
Chiong also identified the following immigration officials in the “pastillas” racket as former Immigration deputy commissioner Marc Red Mariñas and Travel Control Enforcement Unit officials Bien Guevarra, Glenn Comia, Den Binsol, Totoy Magbuhos, Dion Albao, Paul Borja, Anthony Lopez, Dennis Robles, Erwin Ortañez, Fidel Mendoza and Meynard Mariñas.
Chiong said Comia, Guevarra and Binsol, former heads of immigration operations in NAIA’s terminals 1, 2 and 3, respectively—”took over” and systematized the bribe-taking sometime in 2016 after the Department of Justice removed overtime pay for immigration officials. He said the three were also the “primary conduits” of Chinese travelers.
Hontiveros said those named by Chiong will be summoned to attend the next Senate hearing.
Chiong, who admitted getting his share from the “pastillas scheme,” said the removal of overtime pay made Immigration officials disgruntled.
Some officers began offering “VIP services” to Chinese nationals and casino high rollers.
“I think only about 10 percent of Immigration officials have no involvement in this,” Chiong said.
He said he decided to spill the beans after watching the Senate’s inquiry on how the rise of POGOs led to the proliferation of prostitution.
He said every Filipino had the right to know this since the country’s borders must be protected.
Immigration Commissioner Jaime Morente told senators that a fact-finding team has been formed to investigate the syndicate. However, he said his office has no power to discipline tainted officials since this Immigration personnel was appointed by the Department of Justice.
“I was given by the law limited authority. I cannot even suspend since I am not the appointing authority. The principle in civil service is that the appointing authority is the dismissing authority,” Morente said.
He also called on other Immigration officials to report illegal schemes within the agency.
“I am very glad that these people are exposed because they give the bureau a bad name,” he said.
Hontiveros early this week exposed the pastillas scam, wherein Immigration officers and employees provide “VIP treatment” to Chinese who cough up P10,000 each.
“Immigration officers received, through a group chat in the Viber application, a list of names of Chinese nationals who were to be allowed entry into the Philippines without going through the usual immigration process,” Chiong said in his sworn affidavit, which he read during the Senate probe.
“News of the operation spread fast. This time, other syndicated groups within the Bureau of Immigration started submitting their own list of names of Chinese nationals,” he added.
President Rodrigo Duterte has relieved all Bureau of Immigration officials who were allegedly involved in facilitating the entry of foreigners working for POGOs, Malacañang said Thursday.
Speaking to Palace reporters, Presidential Spokesman Salvador Panelo said the Chief Executive received reports of the alleged bribery scheme known as “pastillas operations” linking immigration officials and he found a probable cause to dismiss them.
The President considers this anomaly as a “grave form of corruption” which cannot be tolerated, Panelo said.
Morente’s performance as Immigration chief will be discussed in the next Cabinet meeting, he added.
“Any official or employee who commits any wrong in the performance of their respective duties shall be meted out with the punishment that they deserve and in accordance with our penal laws,” Panelo said.
Panelo could not tell the total number and ranks of BI employees who were relieved from their position but said they were “most likely” to face charges.
He said Morente still enjoys the trust and confidence of President Duterte “unless he says otherwise.”
READ: Makati closes hotel KTV bar and sex denREAD: Abused POGO worker says PH government exec behind crimesREAD: ‘Intensify drive against sex dens, prostitution’
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