‘Pastillas scheme’ whistleblower testifies in Senate

Marje Pelayo   •   February 20, 2020   •   1414

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)

Alleged Korean online prostitution ring leader nabbed in PHL

Robie de Guzman   •   January 20, 2021

MANILA, Philippines A Korean national wanted in his home country for operating an online prostitution advertising site was arrested in the Philippines, the Bureau of Immigration (BI) said Wednesday.

BI Commissioner Jaime Morente identified the foreigner as Seo Jung Nam, 41, who was arrested in Amor Riverside Anunas in Angeles City, Pampanga on Wednesday morning.

The operation was conducted by the bureau’s Fugitive Search Unit (FSU) in coordination with Korean authorities following receipt of information about Seo, with an Interpol Seoul Notice issued last December.

The bureau said Seo has been in the country since 2015.

BI FSU Chief Bobby Raquepo said the suspect is facing a sexual exploitation and prostitution case in Korea for allegedly placing prostitution advertisements online, as well as in business areas.

An arrest warrant was issued against him by the Uijeongbu District Court in Korea in 2018.

Seo, along with other accomplices, reportedly earned a profit of approximately 32 million Korean Won or P1.3 million by operating the online prostitution site under the name Playboy.

“We received information from our Korean counterparts that Seo’s passport is also undergoing revocation, making him an undocumented alien,” Raquepo said.

The arrested individual will be presented to the BI’s Legal Division for an inquest, and shall be turned over to the BI’s Warden Facility in Taguig following Covid-19 testing, the BI said.

Intercepted Filipino victims of illegal recruitment, trafficking down in 2020 – BI

Robie de Guzman   •   January 18, 2021

MANILA, Philippines – The Bureau of Immigration (BI) on Monday reported that close to 12,000 Filipino travelers were barred from leaving the country last year amid the bureau’s continued drive against illegal recruitment and human trafficking.

BI Commissioner Jaime Morente said immigration officers at the different ports of exit deferred the departure of 11,706 passengers, of which 9,411 were stopped at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA).

The agency said that the number of passengers whose departure was deferred last year was 70% lower than the 38,522 travelers who were stopped from leaving in 2019.

“Travel restrictions and international flight suspensions imposed due to the COVID-19 pandemic naturally caused a tremendous drop in the number of Filipinos who traveled abroad in 2020,” Morente said in a statement.

He noted that it was only during October that the government started the gradual lifting of travel restrictions, including the ban on non-essential travel by Filipinos.

Nonetheless, Morente stressed it was evident that the pandemic did not stop human traffickers and illegal recruiters from their nefarious activities.

“Thanks to our vigilant immigration officers at the ports, many of these suspected human trafficking victims were intercepted and rescued before they could leave,” he said.

BI intelligence chief Fortunato Manahan Jr., who supervises the BI’s travel control and enforcement unit, also reported that 295 passengers were turned over to the Inter-Agency Council Against Trafficking as possible trafficking victims.

Manahan said the most common reasons for preventing a passenger from leaving are failure to present required documents, carrying fraudulent documents, and misrepresentation.

Meanwhile, Morente reminded those who wish to work abroad not to fall prey to illegal recruiters and human traffickers and to coordinate with the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration to ensure that their work is registered.

“We are worried that once international travel returns to normal, there will be again a rise the number of victims,” he said.

“These illegal recruiters will sweet talk their victims and take advantage of the hardships that some of our kababayan face to make them agree to below-standard arrangements,” he added.

South Korean wanted for attempted murder nabbed in PH

Robie de Guzman   •   January 18, 2021

MANILA, Philippines – Immigration officers have arrested a South Korean national wanted by authorities in Seoul for attempted murder, the bureau said.

In a statement, Immigration Commissioner Jaime Morente said Lee Hoonhee, 47, was nabbed last Thursday in Barangay Pampang in Angeles City, Pampanga by operatives from the Fugitive Search Unit (FSU).

Morente said he issued the mission order for Lee’s arrest after the bureau received information from the South Korean Embassy that a warrant for the suspect’s arrest was issued by the Incheon district court on December 23 last year.

According to BI FSU chief Bobby Raquepo, Lee is the subject of an Interpol red notice in connection with an arrest warrant that stemmed from the charge of attempt to instigate murder that was filed against him before the Incheon court.

The bureau said the suspect reportedly enlisted two hired killers to murder a fellow Korean to whom he is indebted of a large sum of money. It was alleged that on Dec. 18 last year, the motorcycle-riding hired killers shot the victim but missed their target.

Lee is currently detained at the BI detention facility in Bicutan, Taguig City pending his deportation to Korea, the BI added.

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