Friday, February 21, 2020

Pastillas Scheme

In a Senate hearing that probed sex trafficking and prostitution rings linked to POGOs, Hontiveros showed a video and screenshots of Viber groups of immigration employees facilitating the entry of Chinese persons. The screenshots contained names, flight details, and photos of the arriving Chinese.

BI authorities said that it was the first time for them to hear of the systematic practice, which the senator said was called pastillas because payouts are rolled in bond paper. Now compensation is more sophisticated, with payouts placed in envelopes and free lunch provided by the Chinese.

A whistleblower on Thursday, February 20, said that majority of immigration officers are already part of the "pastillas scheme" or the modus in airports allowing Chinese workers of Philippine Offshore Gaming Operators (POGO) to enter the country seamlessly.

At the marathon hearings on POGO operations, Immigration Officer Allison Chiong said that he had personally witnessed the scheme which started when there was a "dramatic increase" in Chinese entering the Philippines sometime around 2017.

Senator Risa Hontiveros, who chairs the Senate Committee on Women, Children, Family Relations and Gender Equality which held an inquiry on the issue, revealed earlier this week that Chinese nationals pay ₱10,000 “service fee”, rolled in a bond paper like the wrapping of the milk-based candy, to have a special treatment as they enter the country.

“To cope with the substantial deduction of their salaries, some immigration officers decided to offer ‘VIP services’ for immigrants who are casino high-rollers,” said Chiong.

From the ₱10,000 paid by the Chinese nationals, only ₱2,000 goes to the immigration officers on the ground and the remaining P8,000 is split among the foreign tour operator, its partner in the country, and the syndicate running the corruption scheme in local airports.

“This VIP service involved immigration officers accepting Php 2,000.00 for each high-roller, in exchange for the latter's convenient and seamless immigration.” said Chong.

In a week, Chiong said that involved immigration officers assigned at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport Terminal 1 receive around ₱20,000 while those in Terminal 3 receive ₱8,000.

Aside from money, Chiong noted that Chinese organizations and personalities also give free lunch meals to immigration officers.

Duterte on Thursday ordered the relief of all Immigration officials and employees believed to be involved in the “pastillas” operation. 19 have so far been put under floating status as BI continues its probe.

Commissioner Morente admitted he has limited authority in the appointment of division heads in the bureau.

The commissioner explained that it is the Justice Secretary who assigns the heads of divisions while he submits the shortlist of recommendations, as stated in the Philippine Immigration Law of 1940.

"I do not even have disciplinary powers... that 's why I am working for the passing of a new immigration law which would correct the system," said Morente.

Nevertheless, he said he already ordered an investigation into the incident as well as the firing of the personnel shown in Chiong's video.

Hontiveros said there is currently no sufficient evidence to tie Morente to the pastillas scheme. She added that her committee will also look into amending the immigration law.

The sacked employees "will most likely face cases," according to Panelo.

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