‘Pastillas scheme’ whistleblower testifies in Senate

Marje Pelayo   •   February 20, 2020   •   740

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)

International travel still restricted under GCQ, PH Immigration bureau says

Robie de Guzman   •   May 29, 2020

MANILA, Philippines – The Bureau of Immigration (BI) said on Friday that international travel restrictions at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) will still be implemented despite the easing of community quarantine protocols in Metro Manila.

In a statement, Immigration Commissioner Jaime Morente said that international travel restrictions imposed under the enhanced community quarantine and modified enhanced community quarantine are still in place unless these are lifted or eased by the national government.

“As a consequence, our operations at the NAIA are still downscaled and our personnel there are still on skeletal and rotational deployment,” Morente said.

“Nonetheless, we assure the public that we are always ready to resume full, normal operations in our international airports once the government decides to ease or lift these travel restrictions,” he added.

Meanwhile, Immigration acting port operations chief Grifton Medina said that BI officers at the NAIA currently serve an average of only 20 to 30 flights a day, a third of which are special flights that ferry medical supplies and other kinds of cargo into the country.

As for the passenger flights, Medina said these are mostly repatriation flights that transport returning overseas Filipino workers (OFW) and chartered sweeper flights that bring foreigners stranded here back to their home countries.

Under existing guidelines approved by the Inter-Agency Task Force Against Infectious Diseases (IATF), only OFWs, Filipino citizens and their spouses and dependents, permanent residents, and foreign diplomats are allowed to enter the country.

All foreigners can leave anytime but Filipinos are not allowed to depart unless they are permanent residents or holders of student visa in their country of destination.

Metro Manila will be placed under GCQ beginning June 1 after President Rodrigo Duterte approved the recommendation of the Inter-Agency Task Force to ease quarantine restrictions.

Under GCQ, limited operations of public transportation will be allowed to resume and more businesses are allowed to reopen.

Foreigner accused of quarantine violation in PHL facing deportation

Robie de Guzman   •   May 22, 2020

MANILA, Philippines – Deportation charges have been filed against a Spanish national who was involved in a scuffle with a police officer over an alleged violation of quarantine protocols in a Makati City subdivision in April, the Bureau of Immigration (BI) said on Friday.

In a statement, Immigration Commissioner Jaime Morente said it has charged Javier Salvador Parra for undesirability and overstaying in the country.

Morente said the bureau’s legal officers ordered Parra to submit a counter-affidavit to answer the reports against him, “but he reportedly refused to receive the notice and disregarded the requirement, which was due last May 21.”

“Our offices remained open to receive his response, but he failed to submit any,” Morente said.

The case stemmed from a confrontation between Parra and a police officer after the latter advised the foreigner’s househelp to wear a mask while she was outside watering the plants.

The househelp then went inside the house, and Parra emerged minutes after to confront the policeman that led to an attempted arrest for allegedly violating enhanced community quarantine policies.

The incident that took place in Dasmariñas Village last month was captured in a video and made rounds on social media.

Morente said foreign nationals who “blatanly disregard laws” and “disrespect persons of authority” may be considered undesirable aliens.

“Foreign nationals who are here in the country are expected to follow Philippine laws, especially in these special times wherein public health and safety is at risk,” Morente said. 

“There is no exemption, whether you are living in a posh village, or in a slum area, you must obey the law,” he added.

Morente said that the deportation case is a separate action from criminal complaints that were earlier filed by the police against the Spanish national.

PH Immigration to use digitized arrival cards, boarding passes for passengers under ‘new normal’

Robie de Guzman   •   May 21, 2020

MANILA, Philippines – The Bureau of Immigration (BI) is looking to implement the use of digitized arrival cards and records for “more effective passenger monitoring” and lessen person-to-person contact at ports amid the continuing outbreak of novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19).

In a statement on Wednesday, Immigration Commissioner Jaime Morente said the measure comes after President Rodrigo Duterte informed Congress that the bureau will soon launch an advanced passenger processing and information system, and use digitized arrival cards and boarding passes for international passengers entering and exiting the country’s ports.

“These new paperless travel control systems and procedures are just among several innovative protocols that we will be introducing under a new normal environment during this pandemic,” Morente said.

The Immigration chief explained that the new protocols are designed not only to achieve social distancing by lessening person-to-person contact between officers and passengers but also to facilitate contact tracing, if needed.

“While the Bureau of Quarantine (BOQ) collects information from arriving passengers for contact tracing, we have extended our help by providing other details that are found in our arrival cards,” he said.

“These information have proven to be helpful in locating persons that need to be monitored,” he added.

Morente further stated that the bureau is discussing with different airlines the mechanics and procedures for implementing the said initiatives so these could become operational as soon as possible.

He said these initiatives are among the administration’s priority projects as this “would not only help in contact tracing but would also allow our port operations to more effectively monitor and screen arriving foreign nationals.”

Said system is being used by many developed countries, which we can also adopt and use in our fight against COVID-19,” he said.

According to BI Port Operations Division chief Grifton Medina, the digitized arrival cards will be filled out by Philippine-bound passengers at their port of origin prior to their departure for the Philippines.

“This would enable us to easily track details of a passenger as the data will be integrated and sorted in our system,” Medina said.

“Should information be needed for contact tracing, we wouldn’t have to manually dig into boxes of arrival cards which take up precious time. With one click, we would be able to provide the data faster to contact tracers,” he added.

Medina said the move to transition from paper-based arrival cards aims to reduce objects that may possibly transmit infectious agents from a passenger to the officers.

He added that the bureau is likewise urging airlines to use QR or bar codes in a passenger’s mobile device as their boarding pass, which will also be integrated into the BI’s system.

“This will create a fully paperless transaction during immigration assessment, reduce the risk of transmission, and allow for more efficient monitoring,” he said.

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