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.
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'Not low wages': Lacson says greed, corruption are roots of 'pastillas' scheme
Kristine Joy Patag ( - February 28, 2020 - 4:03pm

MANILA, Philippines — Greed and corruption, not low wages, are the roots of the “pastillas” scheme racket at the Bureau of Immigration, Sen. Panfilo Lacson said.

In a statement, Lacson said that while Immigration Commissioner Jaime Morente’s reshuffle order at the Ninoy Aquuino International Airport terminals is a step towards the right direction, it “will have little success if it does not eradicate greed and corruption.”

Lacson noted that corruption schemes at the Immigration bureau have long been going—Morente himself admitted this at the Senate hearing last week. “It is not a consequence of low pay and lack of overtime benefits, but of greed and corrupt attitudes of government workers who are clothed with the power and authority that go with their positions,” the senator also said.

Immigration Officer I Allison Chiong, “pastillas” scheme whistleblower, told the Senate panel 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.

But Lacson called this reasoning as “crap” and said he is not buying it. He stressed that the suspension of payment of overtime pay should not be a reason “for corrupt BI personnel to justify the illegal acts they commit to augment their income.”

He also pointed out that when public workers enter government service, they knew of “limitations, even sacrifices, as well as the benefits.”

“But even the so-called benefits are governed by rules and regulations, and should not put us above our counterparts in the private sector,” he added.

Immigration law amendment

The Immigration Officers Association of the Philippines welcomed the investigation into the "pastillas" scheme in a statement last weekend.

The group also called on the "government to eliminate all adverse conditions in the BI which are conducive to corrupt practices" as well as the enactment of "a law modernizing immigration policies and operations, as well as increasing salary scales and compensation of IOs and re-instituting their overtime benefits, among others."

Malacañang in 2018 admitted that the basic monthly pay of immigration employees is “extremely low,” and has lead to “a large number of resignations and causing prejudice to the efficient delivery of frontline services.”

Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea issued Memorandum Order No. 24 that established the creation of a trust fund, collected from the ELF. Part of the trust fund will be used to augment the salaries of Immigration officers who render service beyond regular work hours.

Meanwhile, bills for the reorganization of BI, created in 1940, remain pending before the Congress.

Morente said in April 2019: "Currently, an Immigration Officer I is on salary grade 11—the same level as public school teachers, which translates to a take home pay of P15,000. We experience the same difficulties, and add that to the fact that our jobs involve a lot of risks.”

Bills to modernize the Bureau of Immigration have been filed at the 18th Congress. At the Senate, Sen. Juan Miguel Zubiri filed a bill in July 2019 that would allow the Immigration commissioner to submit "a new staffing pattern and salary schedule for approval, which shall be in accordance with the Salary Standardization Law and other applicable laws under the National Compensation and Classification Plan."

It also authorizes the commissioner to assign personnel to do overtime work "when the work or service to be rendered is to be paid by the airline, shipping companies or other persons served."

The House of Representatives has 11 pending bills dealing with modernizing the Bureau of Immigration.

The bills in both chambers remain at the committee level. – with reports from Franco Luna

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