‘Pastillas scheme’ whistleblower testifies in Senate

Marje Pelayo   •   February 20, 2020   •   1116

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)

Nearly 3,000 Chinese nationals ordered to leave PH for violating visa rules – BI

Robie de Guzman   •   October 27, 2020

MANILA, Philippines – A total of 2,736 Chinese nationals have been ordered to leave the country for violating the conditions of their visa, the Bureau of Immigration (BI) said Tuesday.

Immigration Commissioner Jaime Morente said that from January to October, Chinese nationals who were granted visas upon arrival (VUA) but failed to leave on their departure date were given orders to leave.

Under the VUA system, visa grantees are not allowed to extend their stay beyond 30 days.

“More than half of those who were ordered to leave were blacklisted from the country,” Morente said in a statement.

“While some were unable to leave due to circumstance, following the cancellation of many flights due to the pandemic, those who stayed without sufficient basis were included in our blacklist,” he added.

The VUA program, a joint project of the tourism and justice departments, was launched in 2017 to attract Chinese tourists and tour groups to travel and stay in the Philippines without the need to apply for visas at Philippine consulates in their places of origin.

Travelers may apply for a VUA through tour operators accredited by the Department of Tourism.

“VUA arrivals account for only around 5% of total Chinese arrivals in the country,” Morente said.

“Most of those who arrived already secured their entry visas from our foreign posts abroad,” he added.

The implementation of the VUA was suspended in January due to the coronavirus disease pandemic.

Immigration employees showing COVID-19 symptoms to get free swab tests

Robie de Guzman   •   October 19, 2020

MANILA, Philippines – Employees exhibiting novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) will be provided with free RT-PCR tests, the Bureau of Immigration (BI) said Monday.

In a statement, Immigration Commissioner Jaime Morente said the effort is to ensure the health and safety of the bureau’s personnel.

“Being frontliners, BI personnel are one of the most at risk as we are in close contact with numerous people every day in the performance of our duties,” he said.

BI Deputy Commissioner Aldwin Alegre, who chairs the BI COVID Task Force, said the swab testing will be conducted through the help of partner agencies.

“We have received allocation for swab kits from the Philippine Coast Guard and the Local Government Unit of Manila,” Alegre said.

“We are very thankful for their support, and this will go a long way in our fight against Covid,” he added.

Alegre said priority will be given to symptomatic employees, as well as those who came in close contact with confirmed COVID-19 patients.

Testing for BI employees will be conducted at the Palacio de Maynila, Manila Health Office, and Palacio del Gobernador in Intramuros.

BI to ease departure travel restrictions starting October 21

Marje Pelayo   •   October 19, 2020

MANILA, Philippines – The Bureau of Immigration (BI) has announced that it will be implementing eased departure restrictions for Filipino citizens following the resolution issued by the Inter-Agency Task Force (IATF) on Emerging Infectious Diseases. 

“Starting October 21, the BI will be allowing the departure of Filipinos with non-essential travel,” BI Commissioner Jaime Morente said.

“Outbound tourism is now allowed for Filipinos, subject to compliance with protocols set by the IATF,” he added.

Initially, only foreign nationals, overseas Filipino workers, permanent visa holders, students enrolled abroad, participants accepted in exchange visitor programs, as well as those who had essential travel, were allowed to depart.

Recently, the IATF through Resolution no. 79 further relaxed restrictions now including non-essential travels.

However, the IATF requires outbound Filipino tourists to present a round trip ticket, health and travel insurance, and a negative antigen result at least 24 hours before departure. 

Also, according to the ruling, if the country of destination requires an RT-PCR test, then the same must be presented instead.

Departing Filipinos shall also be required to sign a declaration acknowledging the risks of their travel, to be provided by airline check-in counters. 

Commissioner Morente stressed that after the said process, passengers will still undergo regular immigration assessment.

He clarified, however, that inbound restrictions are still in place. 

“We are on standby for any changes in policy, as directed by the IATF and the President,” he stated.

Currently, only Filipinos, their spouse and minor children are allowed to enter the country holding tourist visas. 

Restrictions allow foreign children with special needs of Filipinos, the foreign parent of minor Filipinos, and the foreign parent of Filipino children with special needs to enter the country.

Those who are eligible to enter are required to secure an entry visa from Philippine embassies or consulates, prior to their arrival.

Apart from said categories, accredited foreign government and international organization officials and their dependents, foreign airline crewmembers, foreign seafarers with 9(c) visas, and foreigners with long-term visas are also allowed.

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