“It means he would be assessed, his performance. That’s why they will discuss the matter in the Cabinet. Maybe the President is waiting for a report,” Panelo said yesterday when asked to expound on Duterte’s statement of support for the beleaguered immigration official.
STAR/ File
BI chief not yet off the hook on ‘pastillas’
Christina Mendez (The Philippine Star) - February 22, 2020 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines —  Even if President Duterte has said he “loves” Bureau of Immigration chief Jaime Morente, Malacañang said the official is not yet off the hook in the investigation on the alleged multibillion-peso BI racket that allows the entry of Chinese on tourist visas who later work in the Philippine offshore gaming operator or POGO industry.While Duterte does not tolerate wrongdoing by his trusted officials, presidential spokesman Salvador Panelo did not rule out the possibility that the President might simply transfer Morente to another post that would fit the BI head’s capabilities.

“It means he would be assessed, his performance. That’s why they will discuss the matter in the Cabinet. Maybe the President is waiting for a report,” Panelo said yesterday when asked to expound on Duterte’s statement of support for the beleaguered immigration official.   

“There are many he removed, yet he also transferred them. If you enjoy the President’s trust, he will put you in a post where he thinks you could do well, depending on your qualifications,” Panelo said. 

If this happens to Morente, it will not be the first time. The President had earlier transferred former Customs commissioner Nicanor Faeldon – who was in hot water over alleged anomalies at the Bureau of Customs (BOC) – to the New Bilibid Prisons, where he was eventually sacked over issues surrounding the Good Conduct Time Allowance for detainees.

Isidro Lapeña was appointed director general of the Technical Education, Skills and Development Authority after he also got fired from the BOC, in what was seen as a failure to stop alleged corruption issues at the bureau.

Just like other incidents of corruption under his watch, Panelo said it has been the President’s policy to conduct his own independent investigations. “The President conducts his own probe, he won’t tell you how but he will probe all those involved in corruption. All of them who are involved in that agency,” the spokesman said.

Regardless of affiliation, Panelo said the President is serious about his fight against corruption. “If there is an anomaly, they should be prosecuted. That’s the standard policy of the President,” he said.

For the Chinese tourists who have violated their stay in the country, Panelo said they would be sent back to their place of origin once it is proven that they were engaged in unlawful activities in the country. 

 Morente is ‘kind’

The Department of Justice (DOJ) does not see any reason to let go of Morente after Duterte apparently defended him amid the alleged pastillas racket of his men.

In a speech Friday in Davao City, the President said he trusts Morente and described him as “kind.”

DOJ Secretary Menardo Guevarra said that they cannot decide on the fate of Morente, especially that the President still trusts him despite the alleged corruption of the immigration officers at the airport. 

The Bureau of Immigration (BI) is an attached agency of the DOJ. 

Guevarra emphasized that “no person can interfere” with the decision of Duterte as far as Morente is concerned. 

“It is the President who appoints the immigration commissioner and for as long as the President trusts him, or any other political appointee for that matter, he will stay,” Guevarra said.  

“No person can interfere with the President’s discretion in this regard,” he added.
Duterte has vouched for the integrity of Morente in his speech during a graduation ceremony Thursday in Davao City, saying that he “loves” him, being his former chief of police. 

Guevarra had recently instructed the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) to conduct an investigation to determine the existence of the pastillas scheme and to identify the persons responsible in the anomalies. 

He said “the BI leadership should exert greater efforts to address the culture of corruption in the bureau.”

Asked if Morente is covered by the NBI’s investigation supposedly for “command responsibility,” Guevarra said that command responsibility is not an offense by itself, but could be used to determine whether to keep an official in his post or not.  

Guevarra’s statement came a few days after the BI had relieved five terminal heads and heads of the travel control and enforcement unit at the Ninoy Aquino International Airports (NAIA), due to command responsibility. 

In another development, Guevarra said that the Chinese nationals who were mentioned in the Senate inquiry on the pastillas scheme will be deported if found to have illegally entered and remained in the Philippines.    

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

The alleged pastillas scheme at the airport was exposed after Immigration Officer 1 Allison Chong revealed that some of the immigration officers are providing “VIP service” to Chinese nationals in exchange for a fee. 

Duterte ordered the relief and probe of the immigration officers involved in the facilitation of entries to the country of Chinese tourists.

Guevarra said that Chiong is now under the witness protection program of the DOJ due to security concerns, but said that they will still evaluate him “before he could be considered for full coverage.” – With Robertzon Ramirez

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