New whistleblower tags ex-Immigration exec Mariñas in 'pastillas' scheme

Kristine Joy Patag - Philstar.com

MANILA, Philippines — A new witness, another immigration officer, testified at the Senate hearing on Tuesday and pinned former Port Operations Division chief Marc Red Mariñas as the leader behind the “pastillas” scheme at the Bureau of Immigration.

Sen. Risa Hontiveros, chair of the Senate Committee on Women, Children, Family Relations and Gender Equality, on the resumption of the hearing presented Immigration Officer Jeffrey Dale Ignacio who admitted to participating in the “pastillas” scheme.

Ignacio is one of 19 respondents in the National Bureau of Investigation graft complaints over the “pastillas” scheme, where immigration officers allegedly collected money to allow the seamless entry of Chinese nationals into the country.

In his statement, taken from his affidavit submitted to the NBI, Ignacio confirmed the testimony of IO Allison Chiong, the first whistleblower in the contorversy, on the money-making racket at the BI.

“Kapag ang pasahero ay nasa listahan na pinapadala sa Viber group chat, tatakan lang ito ng walang tanong tanong. Kumbaga, parang VIP. Kapag wala naman sa listahan at may pagdududa, irefer sa [Travel Control and Enforcement Unit]. Ichecheck ng TCEU kung may magtutubos doon sa narefer na pasahero. At kapag naman po Chinese na hawak ay Visa Upon Arrival o VUA, automatic na yon na makakapasok na walang pagtatanong,” Ignacio said.

(When a passenger is in a list sent to the Viber group chat, this will be stamped without any question. Like a VIP. If not on the list at there are questions, this will be referred to the TCEU. The TCEU will check if someone will pay for the referred passenger. If the Chinese passenger has a Visa Upon Arrival, he will be automatically allowed to enter without any question.)

Ignacio said that, in exchange, they received P5,000 to P20,000 weekly or every two weeks.

He specifically identified Mariñas and the TCEU heads during his stint as part of the “pastillas” group. They are: Erwin Ortanez (overall TCEU Head ng Terminal 1, 2 and 3), Glennford Comia (TCEU Head ng Terminal 1), Benlado Guevarra (TCEU Head ng Terminal 2), Denden Binsol (TCEU Head ng Terminal 3), Deon Carlo Albao (Deputy TCEU head ng Terminal 1), Arlan Mendoza (Deputy TCEU Head ng Terminal 2), Anthony Lopez (Deputy TCEU head ng Terminal 3).

Mariñas was not present in the Senate hearing on Tuesday, but in a panel inquiry on March 2, he denied knowledge of the “pastillas” scheme. He acknowledged, however, that there are “problems” and “irregularities” at the bureau.

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

But Ignacio said that the “pastillas” scheme continued even after current POD chief Grifton Medina took over the post.

At the same hearing, former Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II, who appointed Mariñas as POD chief, said he stands by the former immigration officer. He stressed that Mariñas is only facing allegations and is innocent until proven guilty.

Aguirre said that he has never regretted appointing him.

‘Officers used us as scapegoats’

Ignacio continued that he was told by lawyers Joel and Jeff Ferrer, supposedly legal counsels of Mariñas, to not go to the NBI that sent them subpoena since there are no formal charges against them. He said they were told that they can ignore the summons.

He said he was surprised when he later learned that Mariñas and other higher-ranking officials of the BI who gave their statements to the NBI were spared from the complaint. “Parang ginawa kaming shield, para kami yung makasuhan at sila yung hindi makasuhan,” Ignacio said.

(It is like they used us as a shield so we would be thie ones charged and they would be cleared)

Ignacio said he was later told to prepare P100,000 and that an insider from the NBI would help them in the investigation. He also said Mariñas would help them come up with the money.

He said that there was a meeting on August 28 in a restaurant for those who were summoned by the NBI. This was where he met lawyer Joshua Paul Capiral, the NBI legal assistance chief who was later arrested for extortion.

READ: NBI official arrested over bribery allegations for clearance in 'pastillas scheme' probe

Ignacio said they were told to prepare P100,000 or double the amount if there is an additional complaint.

He said that this was when he went to the NBI to cooperate. He continued that he was told to call another meeting, which happened on September 5 and 8. In the first meeting, Capiral talked to those summoned by the NBI and the second meeting, he said several BI officers including Mariñas attended.

Ignacio said that he remembered that Mariñas claimed they have a contact at the Office off the Ombudsman. “We were also told by Sir Red that no one should be left behind and we should not copy Sir Grifton [Medina], who they saw went to the Ombudsman with a lawyer,” he explained in Filipino.

He also said they pertain to Medina as “weakest link” who also talks a lot.

NBI investigation

Lawyer Joel Ferrer, representing Mariñas, however denied talking or meeting Ignacio and dared him to take a lie detector test with him. “I do not know him. I never communicated with him,” the lawyer asserted.

NBI Special Action Unit Emetrio Dongallo Jr. said when Ignacio came to them, they formed almost the full picture, and his testimony helped established links.

“[Ignacio] established in his affidavits and statements almost the whole group,” Dongallo said in a mix of English and Filipino.

He added that from the initial 40 or 41 personalities tagged in the case, more people may face complaints in the bureau’s continuing investigation.




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