'Pastillas' hard to break, says DOJ

Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra on Friday said it would be difficult to break a syndicate operating within the Bureau of Immigration because of its ties with groups in China.

“This seems to be a big syndicate that could have originated not from…[the] airport. This is why it’s a bit difficult to break this syndicate,” Guevarra said in an interview over radio dzMM.

Guevarra said Chinese tour operators appear to be in cahoots with erring BI officers and personnel who were implicated during a Senate hearing of pocketing P10,000 for every Chinese national they allowed into the country as a tourist, but who later would work in online gambling hubs.

The Justice secretary admitted that it may take “a little while” before the National Bureau of Investigation can release a report on the “pastillas” bribery scam, named for the rolls of grease money rolled up in paper like milk candy.

A whistleblower tagged former chiefs of the Ninoy Aquino International Airport terminals as conduits for the illegal Chinese entrants.

Guevarra revealed that China is also providing local authorities information on hundreds of Chinese fugitives who supposedly bribed their way into the Philippines.

The Justice secretary said the Bureau of Immigration often reshuffles personnel who might be vulnerable to bribes, pending the approval of a law that would raise their salary and modernize the agency.

The Palace on Friday said Chinese who entered the country illegally will have to be deported.

“The President always says we should follow the law,” Presidential Spokesman Salvador Panelo said in Filipino.

He issued the statement after the bribery scheme at the airport was exposed during Senate hearings.

The President has also ordered Immigration officials employees linked to the bribery scam to be relieved.

In Senate testimony, the whisteblower Allison Chiong, an Immigration officer, 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.

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Chiong has been put in the government’s Witness Protection Program.

Panelo said that while the President continues to have trust and confidence in Immigration Commissioner Jaime Morente, he was not off the hook yet.

“As I’ve said, everyone is not off the hook. The confidence is there until [a] contrary statement is made by the President,” Panelo told Palace reporters.

Chinese who work in Philippine Offshore Gaming Operators allegedly pay P10,000 to get special treatment from Immigration officials and employees upon their arrival in the Philippines, Senator Risa Hontiveros bared on Monday.

Panelo said Morente’s fate would also be taken up in the next Cabinet meeting.

“It means he will be assessed, his performance,” he said.

The National Bureau of Investigation has already started the investigation into the alleged “pastillas” racket.

Panelo said Morente would also be subject of the ongoing probe.

“When an office is involved in the scheme, all those working there are being investigated,” he said in Filipino.

Senator Francisco Pangilinan said the fact that the bribery system thrived under Morente’s nose was proof of his incompetence.

He also pointed to other administration officials—including former Customs chief Nicanor Faeldon and Jason Aquino of the National Food Administration—who oversaw corrupt agencies but let off the hook. Until they were punished, the corruption would continue, Pangilinan added.

On Thursday, President Rodrigo Duterte ordered the relief of BI personnel after receiving reports and finding probable cause to remove them from the bureau due to their supposed bribe-taking.

BI spokesperson Dana Sandoval said about 18 Immigration personnel were relieved from their posts.

President Duterte also ordered the filing of appropriate charges against the relieved BI officials and employees.

The Senate Committee on Women and Children chaired by Hontiveros has been conducting a legislative inquiry into the illegal activities in POGOs.

During Thursday’s hearing, Chiong, a frontline immigration officer tasked to examine the travel documents of departing and arriving passengers rotating in the three NAIA terminals, said the scheme resulted from the Department of Justice’s decision to remove the overtime pay of Immigration officers in 2016.

He some immigration officers decided to offer escort services to foreigners who are high-casino rollers to cope with the reduction in their salaries.

Chiong admitted that each cooperating immigration officer would receive about P20,000 weekly for NAIA Terminal 1 duties and P8,000 weekly for Terminal 3 duties.

He said BI Control Enforcement Unit chiefs Bien Guevarra, Glenn Comia, and Den Binsol, all of whom were then under former Ports Operation Division Chief Red Mariñas, decided to take over when they sensed the lucrative operation.

Guevarra on Friday urged Morente to “exert greater efforts to address the culture of corruption in the bureau.”

Justice Undersecretary Markk Perete, who has administrative supervision over the BI, assured the public that the Department of Justice will continue to cleanse the bureau of erring officials and personnel.

“If the Chinese nationals named in the list turn out to be improperly documented, they will be deported immediately,” Parete said.

“But if they are legitimate, but were merely extended ‘escort service’ by some BI personnel for a fee, then it’s the latter who will be dealt with accordingly,” he said.

Duterte earlier vouched for the integrity of Morente, who once headed the Davao police regional office.

“I love Morente. He was the chief of police here. He is nice. But of course, he cannot...he said there are limitations,” Duterte said Thursday in a speech in Davao City. 

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Topics: Menardo Guevarra , syndicate , Bureau of Immigration , National Bureau of Investigation
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