The scheme dubbed “pastillas” because money is rolled in white office paper similar to the local sweet milk candy before distribution to corrupt officials was bared at yesterday’s resumption of the Senate inquiry into the rising incidents of crimes linked to the proliferation of POGOs.
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‘P10 billion pastillas BI racket allows entry of Chinese’
Paolo Romero (The Philippine Star) - February 18, 2020 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines — A Senate inquiry bared yesterday an alleged bribery scheme at the Bureau of Immigration (BI) to make it easier for Chinese nationals to enter the country on tourist visas and eventually work in Philippine offshore gaming operator (POGO) firms.

The scheme – dubbed “pastillas” because money is rolled in white office paper similar to the local sweet milk candy before distribution to corrupt officials – was bared at yesterday’s resumption of the Senate inquiry into the rising incidents of crimes linked to the proliferation of POGOs.

Sen. Risa Hontiveros, chair of the committee on women, children and family relations, said BI sources revealed that a “service fee” of P10,000 for the entry of each Chinese national is pre-coordinated with corrupt immigration officials.

“Of the P10,000, P2,000 is divided among (BI) personnel at the level of the airport. According to our informant, the P8,000 is already distributed before the rest reaches the airport. (Corrupt officials) sold our country’s borders for Chinese money,” she said.

Hontiveros alleged that the P8,000 could be payoffs to “higher-ups” in the BI as well as the involved Chinese and local tour groups.

She pointed out that based on official BI figures presented to the committee at the previous hearing, about 1.8 million Chinese nationals have entered the country since 2016, which roughly agrees with her informant’s claim that about 2,000 Chinese nationals enter the country every day.

If 800,000 of those who entered were legitimate tourists, it would mean the total take from the alleged scheme in recent years would have amounted to about P10 billion, she estimated.

She also showed a video of an immigration officer apparently escorting Chinese tourists to a BI office at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport Terminal 1 where the visitors’ names were being checked against a list held by a supervisor as well as screenshots of Viber messages of the names, photos and flight details of those escorted.

Hontiveros warned that BI officers and other government officials involved in the scheme might face criminal charges.

The BI officials present at the hearing denied being aware of such a scheme even as they gave assurance that reforms are being implemented in the agency to remove corruption.

BI port operations division chief Grifton Medina said among the reforms that have been made were the reshuffling of officers.

BI Deputy Commissioner Tobias Javier told the committee that he would ask Commissioner Jaime Morente to launch a probe on the matter.

Hontiveros, however, was skeptical, saying some of the evidence provided by her informant were as recent as Jan. 15.

“You’re under oath. You have been in charge since November 2018. Either you are complicit or you are negligent. And I don’t know which is worse,” she told the immigration officials.

BI spokesperson Dana Sandoval said Morente was “deeply alarmed” by the reports and has launched a full-blown investigation to identify those who are possibly part of this syndicate to file both administrative and criminal cases against them.

The BI, she added, would also coordinate with the office of Hontiveros and the Department of Justice.

Justice Undersecretary Markk Perete, who has supervision over the BI, said they would closely monitor the BI’s investigation on its personnel who may be accepting bribes from arriving foreigners. – With Evelyn Macairan

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