On Thursday afternoon, President Rodrigo Duterte ordered the relief of all Immigration officials and employees allegedly involved in the money-making scheme to facilitate the entry of Chinese nationals into the Philippines.
Bureau of Immigration Facebook page
Senate panel to summon Immigration execs who 'received millions' in 'pastillas' scheme
Kristine Joy Patag (Philstar.com) - February 20, 2020 - 5:03pm

MANILA, Philippines — The Senate is set to summon Bureau of Immigration officers who "profited millions" from the “pastillas” bribery scheme for Chinese nationals entering and leaving the country.

Among the officials that senators will summon is former Deputy Commissioner Marc Red Mariñas.

Sen. Risa Hontiveros, chair of the Senate Committee on Women, Children, Family Relations and Gender Equality, said the panel will summon those who supposedly “profited millions” from the scheme that provided "special privileges" for a fee.

Mariñas was also Port Operations Division chief until his resignation in October 2018.

Hontiveros’ informant, Immigration Officer I Allison Chiong, said that Mariñas appointed the Travel Control and Enforcement Unit chiefs of Terminals 1 to 3 of the Ninoy Aquino International Airport who "took over" collecting fees from Chinese passengers for their "seamless" entry into the country.

Chiong said that the officials involved were Glenn Comia as TCEU head of Terminal 1, Bien Guevarra of Terminal 2 and Den Binsol of Terminal 3. They reported to Mariñas, who resigned from the bureau to run in the local elections in Muntinlupa City in 2019.

Unpaid overtime pay

Chiong said that the scheme started in 2016, when some Immigration employees “decided to offer VIP services for immigrants who are casino high rollers” to augment their salaries.

This was when the government vetoed the use of Travel Express Fund for the overtime pay of BI employees.

The employees would accept P2,000 for “each high roller in exchange for the latter’s convenient and seamless immigration,” he said. The scheme allowed Chinese nationals to enter the country without going through the usual immigration process: No screening or investigation for them, Chiong said.

In 2017, the TCEU chiefs—Comia, Guevarra and Binsol—took over the operations. “They took control of the collections from entering and the departing passengers then disbursed commissions at the end of every week,” Chiong told the Senate panel.

At first, the lists of Chinese nationals to be given “VIP treatment” were sent to Viber groups of the officers, but these chat groups were later deleted when the National Bureau of Investigation looked into the issue.

Chiong said the scheme would evolve to having the Immigration officer bring the Chinese national to the holding office of the TCEU to check the name against a master list. If on the list, the Chinese national would go in the country “without screening or profiling,” Chiong added.

This operation cost “great inconvenience” to the Immigration officers had to stand up, leave their seats then bring the passenger to the holding room.

Due to this, a new Viber group was created, reviving the old scheme.

“This time, other syndicated groups started submitting their own list of names of Chinese nationals,” he said.

The syndicated groups composed of Immigration officers, compete with each other to gain favor from Chinese travel agencies that provide the names of passengers.

Immigration officers involved in 'pastillas' scheme fired

While the Senate inquiry was ongoing, presidential spokesperson Salvador Panelo announced that President Rodrigo Duterte ordered the relief of all Immigration officials and employees involved in the money-making scheme.

“The president considers this anomaly a grave form of corruption which cannot and will never be countenanced by this government,” Panelo said Thursday. 

He added: “Any official or employee who commits any wrongdoing, any transgression of the law in the performance of their respective duties will be meted with punishment that they deserve in accordance with our penal laws.” 

It is yet unclear if the Immigration personnel who have been relieved will also be terminated from the service and charged in court. — with report from Gaea Katreen Cabico

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