Ex-Immigration exec denies bribery scheme, accuses 'pastillas' whistleblower of malice

Kristine Joy Patag - Philstar.com
Ex-Immigration exec denies bribery scheme, accuses 'pastillas' whistleblower of malice
In this photo taken February 20, Immigration Officer I Allison Chiong took oath as he sat as one of the resource persons at the Senate hearing into the "pastillas" racket at the Bureau of Immigration.
The STAR / Geremy Pintolo

MANILA, Philippines (Updated 6:06 p.m.) — Former Port Operations Division chief Marc Red Mariñas denied knowledge of the “pastillas” scheme that is said to have started during while he was in office, but admitted that there are “irregularities” at the Bureau of Immigration.

The Senate resumed on Monday its legislative inquiry into the “pastillas” operation at the Ninoy Aquino International Airports, where immigration officers supposedly receive grease money to facilitate “seamless entry” of Chinese nationals into the country.

Sen. Risa Hontiveros invited Mariñas as a resource person in the hearing, as Immigration Officer I Allison Chiong, “pastillas” scheme whistleblower, pointed to the former POD chief as the one who appointed the heads of the Travel Control and Enforcement Unit who supposedly “took over” collection of the bribe money.

Mariñas told the Senate panel that he is “not aware of the word ‘pastillas’ being used in such an operation,” but he admitted that there are “problems” and “irregularities” at the bureau.

“I admit since I took over in 2016, there are problems we faced, the BI as an institution,” he told the Senate panel in a mix of English and Filiipino.

He was assigned to the bureau in 2016 until he stepped down in October 2018 to run for the local elections.

Hontiveros called out Mariñas and told him to not be “too technical” in the discussion as she pressed if the former Immigration officer has knowledge of the “pastillas” scheme.

Whistleblower accused of malice

In his prepared statement read during the Senate hearing, Mariñas said that Chiong took the video “with malice with the intention of making it appear that VIP treatment is being accorded Chinese nationals in exchange for money.”

Mariñas said that the video showed an “ordinary, innocent, standard procedure in the course of primary inspection of arriving passengers was twisted to suit his [Chiong’s] intention of passing it to the committee as evidence of corruption.”

He pointed out that Chiong was once suspended for an administrative case. Chiong acknowledged the administrative case, which he said was due to the processing of a balikbayan visa, and not due to bribery.

Chiong's video was shown during the second Senate inquiry held on February 17.

It showed an immigration officer—later identified as Chiong—apparently escorting Chinese tourists to a BI office at the NAIA Terminal 1 where the visitors’ names were checked against a list held by a supervisor as well as screenshots of Viber messages of the names, photos and flight details of those escorted.

The former Port Operations Division chief  also denied that he appointed Glenn Comia as TCEU head of Terminal 1, Bien Guevarra of Terminal 2 and Den Binsol of Terminal, who, according to Chiong, "took over" collecting fees from Chinese passengers for their "seamless" entry into the country.

Mariñas told the Senate panel”: “I have no appointing authority. I merely endorsed their appointments.”

The Senate will hold a last hearing on the issue and invite former Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguire II as a resource person, said Hontiveros.

Aguirre was accused of being the protector of those involved in the "pastillas" racket.

Hontiveros: 'Classic corrupt moves'

Hontiveros, panel chair, expressed exasperation at the Immigration officers invited to the hearing who all denied knowledge of the corruption scheme. 

Some BI staff also denied being part of a Viber group where the names of the Chinese nationals who availed of the scheme are allegedly sent.

She said the Senate will ask the help of the Philippine National Police’s Anti-Cybercrime Group to verify the identities of the members of the group chat. 

The senator also pointed out that there was “from the outset, conflict of interest” in the appointment of Mariñas and his father, Maynardo, at the Special Operations Communications Unit of the bureau as they handle the processiong of Visa Upon Arrival of Chinese nationals.

“Our border control was bought off by Chinese money, and no less than our government officials had a hand in them,” she said.

She also questioned the ability of the younger Mariñas to mount a campaign for the local elections in 2018 on a monthly salary of P24,000. The younger Mariñas had a declared net worth of P5 million,

Mariñas’ Statements of Assets, Liabilities and Net Worth were also supposedly missing, despite the former POD chief insisting he filed them. 

“Missing SALN, net worth that do not complement the Salary Grade. These are not new. These are class corrupt moves,” Hontiveros added in Filipino.

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