‘Pastillas scheme’ whistleblower testifies in Senate

Marje Pelayo   •   February 20, 2020   •   901

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)

3 South Korean nationals wanted for telecom fraud nabbed in PH

Robie de Guzman   •   August 7, 2020

MANILA, Philippines – Three South Korean nationals wanted by authorities in Seoul for their involvement in telecommunications fraud have been arrested in the country, the Bureau of Immigration (BI) said.

In a statement issued on Thursday, Immigration Commissioner Jaime Morente identified the foreigners as Lim Yeongjun, 36; Kwom Hyeoksoo, 49; and Sim Dong Woo, 49.

Morente said the three were arrested last Tuesday, August 4 by joint operatives from the bureau’s Fugitive Search Unit (FSU) and the Philippine National Police.

They were caught inside the office of the Criminal Investigation and Detection Group at the Southern Police District (SPD) headquarters in Fort Bonifacio, Taguig City where they were taken earlier into custody by policemen.

Morente said the Koreans, who are all overstaying aliens, are subjects of red notices from the Interpol, and that their passports were already revoked by their government.

The BI Chief, however, stressed that the subjects cannot be deported yet as they are facing criminal charges for violating the 1988 Access Device Regulation Act and 2011 Anti-Cybercrime Law.

In fact, the suspects are currently detained at the custodial facility of the CIDG while undergoing criminal investigation prior to the filing of complaints against them in court.

“It is only after these criminal charges are resolved, and upon completion of service of sentence, if they are convicted, that we will be able to deport them,” Morente said.

Information obtained from the BI Interpol Unit revealed that the fugitives operated clandestine call centers in Manila, which they used to trick and defraud their victims.

They allegedly deceived the victims by pretending that they are agents of lending institutions, and persuading the former to repay their loans in advance in order to avail of lower interest.

Korean authorities said the three suspects amassed from their phishing activities more than 80 million won or roughly more than US$67,000, which the unsuspecting victims deposited into the suspects’ bank accounts.

“Consequently, we’re not only able to bring these criminals to justice. We also prevented them from using our country as a refuge so they could evade prosecution for their crimes. Besides, their presence here poses a threat to our people’s welfare and safety,” Morente said.

BI suspends online appointment, scales down operations starting Aug. 4

Marje Pelayo   •   August 4, 2020

MANILA, Philippines – The Bureau of Immigration (BI) announced that it is temporarily suspending its online appointment system for foreign clients at the agency’s main office in Intramuros, Manila starting Tuesday (August 4) as Metro Manila shifts to modified enhanced community quarantine (MECQ).

Immigration Commissioner Jaime Morente advises clients with confirmed appointments between August 3 and 18 to just reapply for new schedules to transact at the Bureau after the MECQ is lifted.

The suspension of the online appointment system is needed because the agency is compelled to operate at limited manpower while the MECQ is in effect, Morente said.

However, the system will remain open to foreign clients who are scheduled to leave the Philippines during the MECQ period.

Likewise, it will continue to reserve slots for departing aliens who need to secure their Emigration Clearance Certificate (ECC), re-entry permit and update their extension fees.

For outbound foreigners, however, Morente said they should present confirmed flight bookings or plane tickets prior to entering the BI’s premises.

Among the transactions that are suspended at the main office include:

  • Applications for conversion to or renewal of immigrant visa;
  • Petition for recognition as Philippine citizens, including Republic Act 9225 or the dual citizenship law;
  • Downgrading of visa status;
  • Tourist visa extension;
  • Special work permits (SWP) and provisional permit to work (PPW);
  • Renewal of alien certificate of registration (ACR I-Cards); and
  • Implementation of applications for visa conversion or extension approved by the Bureau’s Board of Commissioners (BOC).

The BI further advised departing aliens under tourist visa, who overstayed in the country for not more than six months, to just pay their visa extension fees at the airport.

3 alleged human trafficking victims intercepted at NAIA – BI

Robie de Guzman   •   August 3, 2020

MANILA, Philippines – Three people suspected of being victims of human trafficking and illegal recruitment have been intercepted at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA), the Bureau of Immigration (BI) said on Monday.

In a report to Immigration Commissioner Jaime Morente, BI port operations division acting chief Grifton Medina said the passengers were stopped last week before they could board their flights to the Middle East and Europe.

Medina said one of the victims was bound for Dubai while the two others were destined for Greece, all of them showing intentions to work illegally as undocumented workers.

According to BI’s Travel Control and Enforcement Unit (TCEU), the Dubai-bound passenger was intercepted last 25 July 2020 after the immigration officer noticed that the Overseas Employment Certificate (OEC) was not cleared and validated by the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration – Labor Assistance Center (POEA-LAC) desk at the NAIA.

Verification with the POEA-LAC later revealed that the said OEC was tampered as it was issued to someone else and not to the said passenger.

The victim then admitted that her trip was processed by her handlers and that her documents were only given to her when she arrived at the airport.

The BI-TCEU also reported that the two Greece-bound passengers who were intercepted last Saturday, August 2, likewise presented fraudulent travel documents, including fake OECs and local employment certificates.

The bureau said that upon interview, they confessed that their documents were only handed to them at the airport. They also said they were recruited to work in Athens by their handlers to whom they each paid P95,000 in return for facilitating their trip and processing their documents.

“Thanks to the vigilance of our primary inspectors for foiling these attempts by human trafficking syndicates to sneak their victims out of the country,” Medina said.

The victims were turned over to the Inter-Agency Council Against Trafficking (IACAT) for investigation, according to the bureau.

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