Hontiveros calls for criminal charges vs 'pastillas' bribery scheme suspects

Angelica Y. Yang - Philstar.com
Hontiveros calls for criminal charges vs 'pastillas' bribery scheme suspects
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.

MANILA, Philippines — Criminal charges should be filed against over 25 suspects involved in the 'pastillas' bribery scheme, where immigration workers allegedly received kickbacks to expedite the entry of Chinese nationals through airports, according to Sen. Risa Hontiveros. 

President Rodrigo Duterte claimed in his State of the Nation Address in 2021 that people linked to the alleged scheme had already been fired. Philstar.com found that they had actually already gone back to work after their preventive suspension lapsed.

"They thought they could silence the investigation of the pastillas scam, but they were wrong...We recommend the filing of criminal charges against the immigration personnel identified [as suspects] in our committee report," Hontiveros said in Filipino in a statement posted on the Senate website on Wednesday. 

She was referring to the Committee Report on Senate Resolution No. 131 which highlighted the key findings of the various hearings held on the matter. 

The four-page executive summary of the report, available on the Senate's website, identified the suspects behind the pastillas scheme, and how they operated.

Citing testimonies from whistleblowers, the report said that the "big boss" at the very top of the alleged bribery scheme ws former Port Operations Division chief Marc Red Marinas.

"We have strong evidence — from the numerous screenshots up until  the testimonies of the whistleblowers who were from the Bureau of Immigration (BI)," Hontiveros said. 

According to the committee report, the 'pastillas' scheme begins with immigration officers receiving through Viber a list of names of foreign nationals and their arrival schedules. 

The Viber groups are run by chat administrators who receive the names from BI officials, known as "suppliers", who get the lists from foreign syndicates and travel agencies. 

The foreigners are then allowed entry into the country without going through the required screening for non-arriving Filipinos. In exchange for allowing quick passage, Chinese nationals paid P10,000 each, with P2,000 distributed to airport employees, according to the report. 

Report suggests looking into liability of ex-DOJ exec

The committee report also "recommends further investigation into the liability" of former Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre for reportedly appointing Marinas, and for issuing Department Order No. 41 which became the legal basis for the issuance of VUAs (Visas Upon Arrival), which would be screened by the Ports Operation Division (POD) and the Special Operations Communication Unit (SOCU).

At that time, the SOCU and POD were headed by the father-son tandem Maynardo Marinas and Marc Red Marinas, respectively, which raised questions on the conflict of interest.

Aguirre was said to have denied having any personal hand or memory of the decision-making process which led to the conflict of interest.

According to Hontiveros, the VUA system for Chinese nationals is used by many syndicates to traffic women into the country, Hontiveros believes.

Latest BI data shows that almost four million Chinese nationals have entered the country between August 2017 to January 2020. Hontiveros said the sudden surge was driven by the rise of POGO operations in the Philippines and the need for Mandarin-speaking workers. 

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