DOJ to expedite 'pastillas' probe as Palace tries to explain Duterte boast

Kristine Joy Patag - Philstar.com
DOJ to expedite 'pastillas' probe as Palace tries to explain Duterte boast
This government photo release shows President Rodrigo Duterte meeting officials and personnel of the Bureau of Immigration allegedly involved in the ‘pastillas’ controversy at the Malacañang Palace on November 9, 2020.
Presidential Photo / Alfred Frias

MANILA, Philippines — The Department of Justice will speed up its investigation into Bureau of Immigration personnel linked to the “pastillas” scheme, Secretary Menardo Guevarra said.

The statement comes after it emerged that immigration personnel whom President Rodrigo Duterte told Congress and the Filipino people last Monday he had already fired from government service were actually back at work.

Presidential spokesperson Harry Roque on Thursday said that Duterte might not have known about the actual status of the immigration personnel when he made the claim. He also interpreted the statement to mean the president was directing the DOJ to kick them out of government service.

Guevarra, noting Roque’s remarks, told reporters: "We’ll expedite the investigation and impose proper penalty upon those who may be found guilty."

Duterte in his final State of the Nation Address boasted that he fired 43 BI personnel involved in the scheme, where money wrapped in paper like the 'pastillas' milk candies was given to airport officials for the seamless entry of Chinese nationals into the country.

"I have the ‘pastillas’ [scheme] in the airport. There was 43 personnel involved. I fired them all. I really made them leave the government. I rolled up money in pastillas," Duterte said partly in Filipino last Monday.

The president also recalled that Guevarra’s presence prevented him from making the BI officers eat the money. "I never expected him to be there—I’d give each of them the [rolled up] paper and make them eat the money. ‘You want money? Here, eat it.’ That is the best way of… Then, you fire them," he added.

Guevarra on Wednesday confirmed that the BI personnel summoned by Duterte for a dressing down in November last year were only suspended and not fired. They have also returned to the main office of the bureau as the six-month preventive suspension of the Office of the Ombudsman had already lapsed.

Palace 'explains'

But Roque said it is apparent that Duterte may be unaware of that these officers have not been terminated. The president’s words however may be his mandate for the DOJ, the mother agency of the bureau.

"Siguro po, obvious ang sagot, hindi po siguro alam ni presidente, hindi pa sila nasisisante. Ang alam lang nya, nasuspinde," Roque said in an attempt at an explanation.

(I think the answer is obvious. The president may not have known that they were not fired. What he knows is they were suspended.)

Roque continued: "Pero siguro po ang epekto ng kanyang mga binitawang salita yan po ay mandato sa DOJ, sa [BI] gawin nyong lahat para masigurong masisisante yan sa lalong mabilis na panahon."

(But maybe the effect of his words is an order for the DOJ and BI to do everything to ensure that they are terminated in the soonest possible time.)

Guevarra previously said the DOJ may exercise disciplinary power over erring BI officers.

The DOJ is conducting administrative proceedings against the BI officers while the Office of the Ombudsman is looking into the criminal complaints filed by the National Bureau of Investigation in late 2020.

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