34 suspected human trafficking victims rescued at NAIA

Robie de Guzman   •   December 5, 2019   •   874

MANILA, Philippines – The Bureau of Immigration (BI) on Thursday said it has rescued 34 women who were suspected to have been illegally recruited to work as household service workers in Saudi Arabia.

In a statement, the BI said the victims were intercepted at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) Terminal 1 last Saturday, Nov. 30 while they were about to board their flight to Riyadh.

Bureau of Immigration (BI) port operations chief Grifton Medina said the victims, mostly in their 20s and 30s, were stopped from leaving the country after immigration officers noticed “glaring discrepancies” and “irregularities” in the travel documents they presented.

Ma. Timotea Barizo, the bureau’s travel control and enforcement unit (TCEU) chief, said the 34 presented documents as overseas Filipino workers, but upon verification, numerous inconsistencies were discovered.

“The job descriptions on the visas of the victims indicated that they were hired as household service workers but their overseas employment certificates (OECs) and job contracts state that they were recruited as cleaners in companies,” Barizo said.

“Discrepancies like these are not allowed, especially when the actual work is in households rather than in companies, which puts our workers in greater risk,” the official added.

Their OECs were confirmed spurious by Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) representatives at the airport, the BI said.

The women, whose names were not divulged due to a prohibition in the anti-trafficking law, were later turned over to the Inter-Agency Council Against Trafficking (IACAT) for assistance and further investigation.

‘Pastillas scheme’ whistleblower testifies in Senate

Marje Pelayo   •   February 20, 2020

MANILA, Philippines – Allison Chiong, a frontline immigration officer 1 at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) appeared before the Senate inquiry on Thursday (February 20).

Chiong is the whistleblower who Senator Risa Hontiveros referred to as her informant of the bribery and corrupt practices dubbed as ‘pastillas’ scheme inside the Bureau of Immigration (BI).

Chiong’s main task as a frontline officer was to check the travel documents of departing and arriving passengers.

He confessed that the ‘pastillas scheme’ indeed exists.

“Pastillas is a Chinese money used to bribe Immigration officers so they can freely enter our country,” Chiong said.

It works when each arriving Chinese national ‘wraps’ P2,000 as payout in exchange for hassle-free entry into the Philippines.

According to Chiong, there were instances that Immigration officers allowed the entry of a blacklisted person at a price of P50,000 to P200,000.

High-profile fugitives, meanwhile, were priced of up to millions of pesos.

Chiong said he decided to record and expose a video of the scheme because the Filipino people deserved to know the truth.

Sukdulan na po. Gusto ko po i-expose talaga itong nangyayari sa Immigration (I’ve had enough. I really wanted to expose what’s really happening in the Immigration),” Chiong said.

During the Senate hearing, the whistleblower dropped the names of several Immigration officials who acted as leaders of the syndicate and manipulated the illegal operation.

He also disclosed the administrators of a chat group where accomplice travel agencies used to send the names of arriving Chinese nationals who should be given VIP treatment once they arrived in the country.

After po noong first hearing ninyo, noong in-expose po ninto ito, nag-dissolve agad sila. Siempre, magtatago iyan (After your first hearing where you exposed this matter, they dissolved the chat group immediately. Of course, they would hide right away). They would burrow underground,” Chiong said.

Ang feeling ko po ngayon is, wala. Nag-sacrifice na ako. (What I feel right now is blank. I already sacrificed.) I don’t think I can go back to my work as an information officer (because surely, the Bureau is already mad at me),” he added.

Senator Hontivero said they would summon the immigration officers that Chiong mentioned to question them of their participation in the said illegal activity and to expose other officials who have links in the ‘pastillas scheme.’

“May mabigat na latak sa kalooban ko na hindi kapani-paniwala na totally hindi nila alam (I am not totally convinced that they do not know about it),” Hontiveros said.

Pero napansin ko rin iyong sinabi ni Alex Chiong na wala kanina sa Session Hall ang mga opisyal na alam niyang kasangkot partikular ng Pastillas operation (But I noticed what Alex Chiong mentioned that none of those involved in the Pastillas operation was inside the Session Hall),” the lady senator said.

Hontiveros confirmed that Chiong was placed under the witness protection program.

Also, Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo announced that President Rodrigo Duterte already ordered the relief of Immigration officials involved in the so-called ‘pastillas’ operations. – MNP (with details from Harlene Delgado)

Duterte relieves BI employees tagged in ‘pastillas scheme’

Aileen Cerrudo   •   February 20, 2020

President Rodrigo Duterte has relieved the officials and personnel of the Bureau of Immigration (BI) who are linked to the ‘pastillas scheme’.

The so-called ‘pastillas’ bribery scheme provides ‘VIP treatment’ to Chinese nationals who will pay P10,000 to Immigration officials.

According to Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo, charges are also expected to be filed against the involved personnel.

“President Rodrigo Roa Duterte has relieved all officials and employees of the Bureau of Immigration who are involved in the latest bribery scheme where they purportedly facilitate the entry into—and exit from—Philippine territory of foreigners working for Philippine offshore gaming operators (POGOs) for an unauthorized fee,” he said.

The Palace official did not mention the identities of the involved Immigration employees or how many were relieved from service.

“May nag-report, may nag-reklamo (Someone filed a report, complaint), and apparently the proof constitutes probable cause. That’s why they were sacked,” Panelo added.

Meanwhile, Panelo said President Rodrigo Duterte still trusts BI Chief Jaime Morente. However, there will be a follow-up Cabinet meeting to discuss the present situation in the Immigration Bureau.

“The present situation in the Bureau of Immigration, as well as how it is being run by Commissioner Jaime Morente, will be taken up in the next Cabinet meeting,” he said.—AAC (with reports from Rosalie Coz)

BI arrests Chinese national who spat on Manila cop

Aileen Cerrudo   •   February 20, 2020

The Bureau of Immigration (BI) has arrested the Chinese national who went viral on social media for spitting on a Manila traffic enforcer.

According to the Facebook post of the Immigration Bureau, 50-year-old Zhou Zhiyi is now detained at the bureau’s detention facility in Taguig.

The Immigration Bureau said Zhou will be charged for overstaying and being an undesirable alien.

“I immediately dispatched a team of operatives from our Intelligence Division to effect his immediate arrest so he could also be charged for violating our immigration laws,” according to BI Chief Jaime Morente.

The BI said Zhou arrived in the Philippines as a tourist on November 11, 2019, and was admitted for only 30 days.  

BI acting intelligence chief Fortunato Manahan Jr. said Zhou was already overstaying when he was caught violating traffic laws on February 6. This was when video footage caught him spitting on a police officer.

“Video footage shows his car running over several cars and motorcycles before he was finally caught by a policeman […] subsequent search of his car allegedly yielded a sachet of shabu and other drug paraphernalia,” according to the Immigration Bureau. —AAC

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