Hontiveros: Aguirre a 'person of interest' in Senate 'pastillas' bribery probe
In this file photo take February 2017, then-Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II listens as the Commission on Appointments defers his confirmation following objection by then-Sen. Antonio Trillanes IV.
The STAR/Geremy Pintolo, file
Hontiveros: Aguirre a 'person of interest' in Senate 'pastillas' bribery probe
Kristine Joy Patag (Philstar.com) - October 26, 2020 - 12:51pm

MANILA, Philippines — Former Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II is not yet cleared in the ongoing Senate investigation into the “pastillas” scheme at the Bureau of Immigration, as the panel moves to identify the protectors of the corrupt officials in the agency.

In an interview with CNN Philippines’ "The Source" on Monday, Sen. Risa Hontiveros said they will look into protectors of the corruption scheme at the bureau who may have allowed the anomalies to go on for years. “Is there someone even higher—the protector—than these masterminds, the bosses, the father and son Mariñas?” she said.

Marc Red is accused as the “ringleader” of the pastillas scheme, an allegation he denied at the Senate hearing. He and his father handle the processing of VUA, Hontiveros said.

RELATED: 'Masterminds' behind 'pastillas' scheme pocketed around P40 billion, Hontiveros says

She added that Aguirre remains a “person of interest” for the Senate Committee on Women in so far as identifying the protector of the Mariñas father and son former BI officials who are accused of links to the “pastillas” scheme.

Hontiveros pointed out that Aguirre appointed Marc Red Mariñas as Port Operations Division chief and his father Maynard as Special Operations Communications Unit chief in 2016. The former justice secretary also issued the department order on Visa Upon Arrival for Chinese nationals.

Aguirre’s DOJ Order No. 41 “opened the floodgates of the very lax oversight on the VUA” and “led to an institutionalization of that one stop shop corruption right in the BI,” Hontiveros said.

Visas upon arrival are granted to Chinese tourists screened by Department of Tourism-accredited tour operators in China and vetted by the BI. The VUA has been suspended due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The Senate panel has so far conducted seven hearings into prostitution rings that cater to Philippine Offshore Gambling Operator workers that later led to the uncovering of the “pastillas” scheme at the bureau, where immigration officers receive a fee in exchange of Chinese nationals’ seamless entry into the country.

Aguirre to Hontiveros: Bring it on!

Aguirre meanwhile accused of Hontiveros of “getting back at him” and said there is no evidence linking him to the money-making racket.

He also asserted that he only appointed Marc Red, while Immigration Commissioner Jaime Morente appointed Maynard, according to the testimony of BI Deputy Commissioner Deputy Commissioner Tobias Javier.

In a message to reporters, the former justice chief said the two whistleblowers did not identify him as part of the scheme. Aguirre said only Ramon Tulfo, who he called a “fake witness,” implicated him.

“Tulfo never submitted his or any of his witnesses' affidavits. Tulfo's evidence are all hearsay or otherwise inadmissible but they seem very pleasant to the ears of Sen. Hontiveros,” Aguirre said.

Aguirre added that Hontiveros is refusing to “accept [his] innocence” since he sued her for supposedly violating his right to privacy when she took photos of messages in his cellphone during a Senate hearing in 2017.

He filed three counts of violation of the Anti-Wiretapping law against Hontiveros. The complaint was filed over Hontiveros’s showing of a photo that captured Aguirre holding his phone while exchanging the text message with former Rep. Jing Paras and ordering the latter to expedite the case build up against the senator.

Aguirre said the Pasay Prosecution Office indicted Hontiveros and the case has been forwarded to the Office of the Ombudsman.

“Sen. Hontiveros is engaged in witch-hunting and fishing expedition against me and this is the reason why she did not want to end the hearing of her committee. She obviously is enjoying basking in the limelight,” Aguirre added.

BUREAU OF IMMIGRATION PASTILLAS SCHEME RISA HONTIVEROS VITALIANO AGUIRRE II
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