Pastillas scheme: Travel firms linked to fake passports for Sino tourists

Travel agencies offer manufactured passports, birth certificates, drivers’ licenses, and ‘pastillas’ services to Chinese nationals entering the Philippines, said Senator Risa Hontiveros.

The services are advertised in Mandarin through the messaging app WeChat, primarily to workers in Philippine Offshore Gaming Operators.

“These are criminal acts. These are violations of our laws, and tour agencies are advertising them freely,” said Hontiveros as she showed screenshots of WeChat messages during Monday’s Senate hearing on POGO operations.

READ: Abused POGO worker says PH government exec behind crimes

Tour operators allegedly receive P8,000 from the P10,000 “service fee” or bribe paid under the pastillas scam, while P2,000 goes to officials of the Bureau of Immigration, the Travel Control and Enforcement Unit, the Border Control and Intelligence Unit, the terminal heads, the immigration supervisors, and other airport personnel.

“This information corroborates reports that Chinese nationals are using the identities of dead Filipinos,” she said. “These Chinese nationals are even assisted by our own corrupt local registry officials,” she added.

Hontiveros said that travel agencies also offer to de-list from a blacklist and to release Chinese nationals from the airport should they be barred entry.

During the previous hearing, Hontiveros’ Senate committee found that there were VVIPs (Very, Very Important Persons) who seamlessly enter the country for a heftier “service fee.”

“‘The VVIP who have criminal records in China but if they paid more than the P10,000 fee, they can enter the country. So no wonder syndicates proliferate in the country today,” she said.

“This is a clear threat to our national security and it puts the safety of our women, children, and the entire Filipino people in jeopardy,” she added

Former Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II, tagged as a protector of the pastillas scheme, hit back at his accuser, special envoy to China Ramon Tulfo, saying the visa-upon-arrival program for Chinese nationals, which was open to abuse, was introduced at the request of Tulfo’s sister, Wanda Teo, who was Tourism secretary at the time.

Teo wanted the visas on arrival program because this would improve her performance as Tourism secretary, Aguirre told radio dzBB.

“She did nothing during our Cabinet meetings but to speak to me about the program so that she could improve the performance of the Department of Tourism,” Aguirre said in Filipino.

In 2017, the BI launched the visa-upon-arrival program to attract more tourists and investors from China. The so-called “landing visa” allowed a traveler to receive the actual visa at the airport of destination for an expeditious entry and admission.

Nonetheless, Aguirre admitted that the program showed merit, despite calls from the BI’s new leadership to have the program stopped.

In fact, he noted Malacañang maintained the system, which only showed that the program had good results.

“The problem was in the implementation,” Aguirre said.

Aguirre said the influx of Chinese workers into the countrycan be attributed to the abuses on the visa-upon-arrival system.

Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra on Tuesday said any action on his predecessor, Aguirre, would be based on “competent evidence.”

Guevarra was appointed Justice secretary following Aguirre’s resignation in 2018.

Earlier, Aguirre, who threatened to file new libel and cyber libel complaints against Tulfo, denied the allegations against him, saying he will request the Senate committee investigating the scheme to invite him to future hearings so he could refute the allegation.

Guevarra said that the National Bureau of Investigation has already been tasked to probe the “pastillas” scheme, in which immigration personnel allegedly escort Chinese casino high-rollers and offshore gaming workers through the immigration process in exchange for a fee.

The Bureau of Immigration has placed 19 personnel on floating status pending the results of the investigation.

Presidential Spokesman Salvador Panelo said Immigration Commissioner Jaime Morente has presented a plan to the President on how to get rid of corruption that has riddled his agency.

The policies include the introduction of rooms that can be seen by the public where officials can interview those who seek to enter the country, he said.

“He [Duterte] is giving Commissioner Morente a chance to do some innovation in the Immigration department,” Panelo said.

The Palace official, however, said Morente is not yet off the hook as he would still be investigated.

Panelo said Aguirre, who was tagged as the supposed protector of officials involved in the bribery scheme, was not mentioned during the Cabinet meeting.

Guevarra on Tuesday refused to say if he would order the NBI to investigate concerns over Chinese espionage by way of POGOs, a possibility raised by Senator Richard Gordon.

READ: Immigration man tags 5 in ’pastillas’

READ: Immigration vows purge of crooks

Topics: Risa Hontiveros , ‘pastillas’ services , Philippine Offshore Gaming Operators , Bureau of Immigration
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