EDITORIAL - Return to pastillas?

The Philippine Star
EDITORIAL - Return to pastillas?

Are they again accepting grease money folded like the popular local milk pastries called pastillas? This is the question on many people’s minds following reports that 84 officials and employees of the Bureau of Immigration implicated in a bribery scandal had returned to work.

The 84 were nearly double the number mentioned by President Duterte in his final State of the Nation Address last Monday. In line with his campaign against corruption, the President said he had fired 43 of the Bureau of Immigration personnel linked to the pastillas scheme. Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra, whose department has jurisdiction over the BI, subsequently clarified that the six-month preventive suspension of the officials and employees had lapsed so they have returned to work.

The BI has clarified that 86 immigration personnel were preventively suspended by the Office of the Ombudsman, including the whistle-blower. One has retired and 84 have returned to work, although they were assigned to “back-end” and non-sensitive administrative work, Guevarra explained. The BI personnel are accused of accepting bribes to facilitate the entry of Chinese nationals into the country.

The 84 were able to return to work because the administrative and criminal cases filed against them for graft have not yet been resolved. The ombudsman is still conducting a preliminary investigation of the criminal complaint while the Department of Justice is handling the administrative case. The pastillas scheme first came to light in a Senate probe in February last year, with some senators saying the bribery that began in 2017 could have netted the perpetrators billions in dirty money.

Malacañang has said the President’s statement at the SONA could be considered as a message to speed up the probes. The mere presence of the 84 at work could send the wrong message and encourage more BI employees to engage in anomalous activities. Civil service rules allow the DOJ and ombudsman to impose dismissal for dishonesty and other major administrative offenses. Even the criminal case could be speeded up.

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