Immigration Commissioner Jaime Morente said the revamp takes effect immediately and covers all personnel assigned to NAIA Terminals 1, 2 and 3 from Port Operations Division (POD) deputies to terminal heads, and down to counter personnel.
Geremy Pintolo/ File
BI reshuffles 800 airport personnel amid ‘pastillas’
(The Philippine Star) - February 28, 2020 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines — A complete reshuffle of Bureau of Immigration officers and personnel at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) terminals was implemented yesterday to address anomalies exposed in recent weeks.

BI spokesperson Dana Sandoval said close to 800 immigration personnel were reshuffled.

Immigration Commissioner Jaime Morente said the revamp takes effect immediately and covers all personnel assigned to NAIA Terminals 1, 2 and 3 from Port Operations Division (POD) deputies to terminal heads, and down to counter personnel.

The revamp was implemented in the heat of the investigation into the so-called “pastillas” bribery scheme which involves multiple levels of corruption in order to ease the entry of Chinese nationals into the country.

“For chiefs (of the bureau), all were replaced, except the chief of Port Operations Division as this will be decided by the secretary of justice,” said Sandoval.

This was confirmed by Morente, but he refused to identify the POD chief who would remain in the position until further advice from the Department of Justice (DOJ), the BI’s mother agency.

“(All were replaced) for frontline personnel, reshuffled shift and terminal to stop any collusion that may still be in place among officers,” Sandoval said.

‘Pastillas’-related

In a statement, Morente said the revamp of the bureau’s airport personnel is “part of the ongoing actions that are being undertaken to address the recent resurgence of unauthorized activities and irregularities” in the bureau, particularly the pastillas scheme. 

During a recent Senate hearing on anomalies surrounding the operation of Philippine offshore gaming operators (POGOs), Immigration Officer 1 Allison Chiong surfaced and exposed the so-called “pastillas” scheme at the airport that involved “grease money” in the mass entry of Chinese nationals.

The pastillas scheme was coined from a traditional Filipino dessert rolled on paper and resembled how the “grease money” is folded before being given to immigration officers.

The exposé prompted President Duterte to order the relief and investigation of 19 BI officials and personnel suspected of involvement in the racket last week.

In response, the BI put them under its administration holding office and cancelled their privileges as due process takes its course in the courts of justice.

Morente said those proven to have been involved in the pastillas anomalies will be charged with administrative and criminal cases.  

NBI probe sought

“We have, likewise, sought the assistance of the NBI (National Bureau of Investigation), through the DOJ, in expanding the probe to include private entities that act as recruiters of aliens,” Morente said.

He said it was equally important to crack down on these local agencies and their counterparts in China in order to address the VIP treatment racket uncovered in the bureau.

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

New protocols

The bureau also activated new protocols in the conduct of secondary inspections in open areas for transparency, as well as the installation of additional CCTV cameras in all areas of primary inspectors.

While the total revamp is “a means to enable better performance and encourage skill upgrades, as well as a necessary precaution against possible avenues for graft and corruption,” Morente said reformation policies have been in place since 2016.

Morente stays

As far as President Duterte is concerned, Morente shall remain in his post but should make himself available to the congressional probe into the bribery scheme at the BI.

Speaking at Malacañang yesterday, Duterte said he would defer to the investigation by Congress before making any decision on Morente’s fate at the bureau.

In not rushing to fire Morente on the ground of command responsibility over the anomalies, the President said: “So, that whatever is said (in the congressional investigation), he (Morente) would be there (to respond). He tells the story from where he stands.”

Duterte added that the DOJ was also looking into the anomalies at the bureau. “I think the secretary of justice is also doing his homework,” he said.

Duterte previously said he “loves” Morente, whom he described as “kind.” 

Duterte looking for replacements

The President is not as patient, though, with the rest of the immigration officers tagged in the pastillas scheme. “I am insisting on the ouster of all involved. I think we have terminated... but there will be more,” he said.

He said that he is determined to immediately replace all those relieved from their posts.

“I am asking the commissioner of the civil service to give me a list of first grade, those who passed (the civil service examination) with good records scholastically. They can give me the names. I will replace almost all of them,” he said.

Presidential spokesman Salvador Panelo had said the pastillas scheme was a “grave form of corruption which cannot be countenanced by the government.” – With Alexis Romero

NAIA PASTILLAS POD
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