The ‘pastillas’ caper

"Rid this agency of bad eggs."


By all accounts, those Bureau of Immigration personnel involved in the so-called pastillas operation made a killing from what they did. No less than the President looked into the revelation and confirmed it to be true. One wonders whether the people involved realize the kind of damage they inflicted on the reputation of the country when they embarked on their profitable money-making scheme. These people put their greed ahead of the interest of the country they have sworn to protect. This is not only a simple problem of corruption because there are many attendant consequences with what they did.

Now, it is quite doubtful whether the government knows the exact number of Chinese who are here in the country. This is because a lot of them are already embedded here, creating Filipino names and identities with the intention of staying here.

One might ask: Why would these much richer Chinese citizens prefer to stay here than live in their own country? One simple answer is that we are free in this country and this is very important to a lot of people. Some people might dispute that we are free but we are essentially a lot freer than people in China. We do not have a state security apparatus monitoring dissent. We elect our political leaders and we can do many things that one cannot do if one lives in China.

The problem started when the government opened the country to Chinese tourists with its visa-on-arrival program. As a result, a lot of bad elements took advantage of the opening and came with the legitimate Chinese tourists and started many of the problems we are experiencing today. As the figures show, Chinese tourists will almost certainly eventually surpass South Koreans in being the largest group visiting the country for some time. Chinese restaurants have started operating in many places followed by the Philippine Offshore Gaming Operators. Although the operation was established here in the country, the clientele is Chinese in mainland China. It is therefore a transnational gambling operation which is why it is difficult to monitor and control.

With the many Chinese employed by the different gaming companies, prostitution is a natural consequence. What would the Chinese employees who speak no word of English do to satisfy their sexual urges but establish the brothels? It is not exactly the same as the comfort women operation done by the Japanese soldiers during the second World War, but it is close. The difference is this time, the women are paid and are even imported from other countries including China. With prostitution, other crimes like kidnapping, drugs, murders and others followed.

Clearly, this POGO operation is giving China a problem that the country does not need. For one, internet gambling is illegal in China. There are unconfirmed recent reports that Chinese authorities are already taking steps like the cancellation of passports to force those who are involved in offshore gaming to go back home. The problem is whether these people who are now embedded here and probably difficult to trace can still be found and deported. This is one of the unwanted outcomes of this “pastillas” caper. The reports about some Chinese tourists spitting on people including policemen as a sign of contempt and total lack of respect is probably because of the impression they got with our immigration officials when they were entering the country. They may be thinking that all officials here can be bought. This is what happens when our frontline agencies like the Bureau of Immigration, who are supposed to exhibit the best of our law enforcement practices, can easily be bought at the airport.

No wonder the country’s standing in the corruption index among countries is not improving. On the contrary, it went down last year from number 99 to 113—a big drop. Considering that the anti-corruption campaign is a signature program of the President, this must be a big disappointment to him. What these people in the immigration did was to sabotage the President’s campaign.

Other frontline agencies like Bureau of Customs and Bureau of Internal Revenue that deal with many foreign businesses should be forewarned not to go the way of the Bureau of Immigration. This is because the polling for this yearly corruption index by an international polling company is done mostly on foreigners doing business in different countries. What this tells us is that our agencies should only exhibit our best practices in dealing with everyone, most especially foreigners, if we want to be respected and not taken for granted.

Let us not follow those myopic airport immigration officials who sold the reputation of the country down the drain for P10, 000 per transaction. Many in the immigration bureau are now under investigation with regard to the “pastillas” operation but already, there seems to be an attempt to clear some people before the investigation could even start formally. Does this mean that the investigation will be limited to those who have been suspended or dismissed only and will not go any further?

Exonerating anyone should only be done when the investigation is completed and not before.

The operation mounted at the airport is something very hard to hide in an agency. As to the question of command responsibility, there is already a clear definition of what this is. This was defined during the term of former President Fidel Ramos and should be consulted if there is any confusion as to its meaning or scope. There is an opportunity to be able to rid an agency of bad eggs. Let us not blow it.

Topics: Bureau of Immigration , China , Bureau of Customs , Bureau of Internal Revenue
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