Immigration reassigns NAIA personnel amid 'pastillas' bribery allegations

Kristine Joy Patag - Philstar.com
Immigration reassigns NAIA personnel amid 'pastillas' bribery allegations
Immigration Commissioner Jaime Morente served as one of the resource persons during the Senate inquiry held February 20, 2020.
The STAR / Geremy Pintolo

MANILA, Philippines — Immigration Commissioner Jaime Morente has ordered the reassignments of the bureau's officers and staff at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport, as investigations continue into the so-called "pastillas" bribery scheme involving its officers.

Morente, in a statement Thursday, said that the revamp “covers all personnel assigned to the NAIA terminals from Port Operations Division (POD) Deputies, Terminal Heads down to counter personnel, except Chief, POD which will be decided by [Department of Justice.]”

 "This practice of rotating and changing assignments on a regular and programmed basis is both a means to enable better performance and encourage skill upgrades, as well as a necessary precaution against possible avenues for graft and corruption," Morente added.

The bureau is currently in hot water as authorities look into the “pastillas scheme” where Chinese passengers are given “special privileges” when entering the country, for a fee.

Morente also said that the transfer of units is in line with President Rodrigo Duterte’s directive “to revamp the Bureau as necessary.”

Last week, Duterte ordered the relief of officials and personnel of the Bureau believed to be involved in the money-making scheme. The bureau said that 19 were placed on "floating status" following Duterte’s order.

According to a source, this means the 19 have to report to the bureau's Administrative Division. For lack of space, the "floating" personnel have been loitering along the bureau office's corridor, the source also said.

TCEU moved to Intelligence Division

A document obtained by Philstar.com showed Morente, on February 23, ordered the transfer of the Border Control and Enforcement Unit (BCEU) and Travel Control and Enforcement Unit (TCEU) to the bureau’s Intelligence Division.

“The BCIU and TCEU shall continue to discharge its duties and functions as provided under existing rules and regulations,” Morente said in the administrative order.

Immigration spokesperson Dana Sandoval confirmed the transfer of the units and said the directive is “an effort to shake up the system and add more checks and balances.”

Immigration Officer I Allison Chiong, who has testified at a Senate hearing into the bribery, identified Bien Guevarra, Glenn Comia and Den Binsol, chiefs of the TCEU terminals at the NAIA as those who supposedly "took over" collecting fees from Chinese passengers for their "seamless" entry into the country.

Chiong is currently under the custody of the Justice department’s Witness Protection Program, pending evaluation to be given his full coverage of the state protection program.

Expanded probe sought

The National Bureau of Investigation, under the orders of Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra, is conducting a probe into the corruption allegation.

Morente said that those “accused” of involvement in the scheme are under the Administration holding office and had their privileges are revoked. “The appropriate disciplinary and administrative sanctions will be implemented according to the findings and decisions of proper courts,” he added.

The Immigration commissioner also said that they are seeking assistance from law enforcement agencies to also probe private entities involved in the “pastillas” operation.

Morente noted that during the Senate probe, it was found out that Immigration personnel involved in the scheme coordinate with Chinese travel agencies that recruit the passengers.

“We see this as one of the major root causes, as these agencies are the source of the corruption,” he said.

Morente added: “Hence, we seek assistance from law enforcement agencies to expand the probe and file criminal cases against erring Immigration personnel and these private entities as well, to break the chain of corruption and finally put an end to this illegal scheme.”

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