The Bureau of Immigration is now implementing additional measures to stop and expose illegal activities involving its personnel while expressing willingness to cooperate with authorities and lifestyle check involving an alleged bribery scam.
The fraudulent scheme has been reported to involve erring immigration employees at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport.
At the same time, Immigration Commissioner Jaime Morente on Saturday criticized officials and other personnel of his agency accused of facilitating the “pastillas” scheme, where illegal Chinese workers allegedly enter the Philippines by paying grease money.
“As the commissioner, I am very disappointed with the unauthorized activities of some personnel who continue to commit irregularities despite our determined efforts
to get rid of the culture of corruption in the Bureau since 2016,” Morente said in a statement.
The “pastillas” scheme was revealed in a Senate inquiry earlier this week by opposition Senator Risa Hontiveros, who said Chinese nationals who enter the Philippines as tourists and later work for Philippine Offshore Gaming Operators (POGO) hubs pay immigration personnel and Chinese and Filipino travel agencies P10,000 in grease money rolled in the bond paper.
Among those allegedly able to enter the country through payoffs were Chinese nationals already in the immigration blacklist.
In a statement posted on social media, Morente said the bureau welcomed efforts to cleanse the ranks of all personnel involved in unethical and corrupt practices.
“We will cooperate with any impartial probe and lifestyle check to be conducted by authorities,” said Morente.
The agency came up with the statement two days after Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra announced he supported the calls for the conduct of lifestyle checks on bureau officials and personnel suspected of involvement in the so-called “pastillas scheme.”
The scheme, in which bureau personnel receives kickbacks to facilitate the entry of Chinese nationals, who pay a “service fee” of P10,000 per head, was exposed during a Senate inquiry.
The whistleblower Immigration officer Allison Chiong identified officials and employees involved in the bribery syndicate, saying Chinese nationals could skip the immigration process if their names were found in a master list.
Morente said the bureau already placed all the accused in the administrative holding office and have canceled all their privileges.
He added the incident and the corresponding consequences should serve as a strong warning and reminder to others not to engage in any unethical practices.
“As the Commissioner, I am very disappointed with the unauthorized activities of some personnel who continue to commit irregularities despite our determined efforts to get rid of the culture of corruption in the Bureau since 2016,” the Immigration chief said.
“On the other hand, I am certain that after this exposé, the intense public scrutiny and accompanying trial by publicity that the Bureau has been subjected to will only ensure that we come out stronger as we weather yet another storm,” he added.
Morente said the Immigration is now implementing additional measures to deter and expose illegal activities involving personnel.
“We have included new protocols in the conduct of secondary inspections in open areas to improve transparency and installation of additional CCTV cameras in all areas of the primary inspectors,” he said.
Morente urged every Immigration official and employee to remain professional and focused on performing duties and responsibilities in protecting the country’s borders and securing gateways from the entry of any and all threats.
“As frontliners in border security, we must continue to remain unfazed by the hazards of the job, including the threat of the COVID-19 outbreak to the health of Immigration officers as well as the cloud of doubt arising from this issue that has put the reputation and character of every Immigration Officer in question,” he said.
Despite the recent controversy, Morente gave assurances the agency would continue the reform efforts it started which have resulted in the expanded implementation of the Electronic Gates (E-Gates) project in major international airports, streamlining of the procedures for Frontline Services, enhancement of technologies in all BI offices, capacitating employees through trainings and workshops, the arrest and/or deportation of identified members of terrorist organizations and illegal foreigners, and the awarding of ISO 9001:2015 Certification for Entry and Exit Formalities, among others.
“The Bureau and its personnel have been tested by various issues in the last few years, and despite these trials, we have remained steadfast, strong in our adherence to the values of patriotism, integrity, and professionalism. Once again, let us focus on doing our job and doing it well,” added Morente.