Whistle blower says ‘pastillas’ scam masterminds have ‘contact’ in Ombudsman’s office

Aileen Cerrudo   •   October 6, 2020   •   724

Pastillas scam whistleblower, Immigration Officer II Jeffrey Dale Ignacio

Alleged masterminds of the money-making “pastillas” scheme at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) claimed to have a contact in the Office of the Ombudsman, according to the new whistleblower, Immigration Officer II Jeffrey Dale Ignacio.

During the hearing on Tuesday (October 6), Ignacio admitted to having been a member of the “pastillas gang” and tagged former deputy commissioner Marc Red Mariñas as one of the alleged leaders of the operation who purportedly has a “contact” in the Office of the Ombudsman.

Ang naalala ko po ay sinabi ni Sir Red na may contact daw sila sa Ombudsman. Sabi pa ni Sir Red, sana daw matapos bago ang filing of candidacy (I remember Sir Red telling us that they have a contact in the [Office of the Ombudsman]. Sir Red also said that hopefully, [the investigation] would be over before the filing of candidacy),” he said.

Ignacio said he was forced to join the group in 2017 as a foot soldier like the first witness, Allison Chiong. He also confirmed Chiong’s statement that they would receive P5,000 to P20,000 per week for the “VIP Treatment” of Chinese nationals who paid bribes dubbed as “pastillas” because the money given to immigration officers were rolled in white bond paper similar to a Filipino milk candy of the same name.

He also revealed that Mariñas’ lawyers told them not to answer the subpoena submitted by the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI). NBI legal assistance division Atty. Joshua Capiral was also tagged to have been involved in bribing them in exchange for being excluded from charges.

Capiral was arrested by the NBI last September 21 during an entrapment operation for accepting bribe from immigration officers allegedly involved in the “pastillas scheme”.

Meanwhile, former Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II denied the claims of columnist Ramon Tulfo that he assigned Mariñas’ father, Maynardo Mariñas as Special Operations and Communications head at the Bureau of Immigration (BI). Aguirre said he only assigned Red Mariñas as Port Operations Division chief.

Senator Risa Hontiveros, chair of the committee leading the investigation, asked Aguirre if he knew about Maynardo Mariñas’ position.

“Hindi nga po nagma-micromanage, hindi ko po alam iyan. Wala naman pong conflict of interest diyan (I don’t micromanage, I know nothing. There is no conflict of interest there),” he said.

Hontiveros also said Senate President Vicente Sotto III has already approved the provision of legislative immunity to Ignacio while four individuals who were subpoenaed for their alleged involvement in the scheme were cited in contempt for not attending the hearing. AAC (with reports from Harlene Delgado)

PH Immigration law in dire need of update to stop corruption – BI chief

Robie de Guzman   •   November 11, 2020

MANILA, Philippines – Bureau of Immigration (BI) Commissioner Jaime Morente on Wednesday expressed his belief that the Philippine Immigration Act of 1940 is “very old” and is in dire need of updating to solve the alleged corrupt activities in the bureau.

“The Philippine Immigration Act is a very old law, 80 years old to be exact,” Morente said in a statement.

“I have talked to the President and raised this concern to him,” he further stated.

Morente said that since the law was enacted during a time when there were no international flights yet entering and leaving the country, “many of its provisions are already outdated and inappropriate already.”

The BI chief said updating the law would “answer salary woes, remove systemic issues, plug loopholes in policies, update fines and penalties, ensure division of power, and confer to the Commissioner the proper disciplinary powers.”

The proposal to revisit the country’s immigration law was pushed following corruption issues allegedly involving some of the bureau’s personnel.

More than 80 officials and employees of the Immigration bureau are facing investigation and charges before the Office of the Ombudsman over allegations of accepting bribes in exchange for escorting Chinese and other foreign nationals who wish to dodge the immigration screening process in airports.

The scheme was called “pastillas,” named after a local soft milk candy, because the bribe money that some personnel receive are concealed inside rolled up papers resembling the dessert.

According to Morente, they have already implemented measures to address corruption in the bureau.

“The short-term solution is relieve all those found to have been involved in corrupt practices, hence we relieved all names implicated in the Pastillas issue, and implemented a one strike policy for anyone who tries to follow suit,” he said.

“The medium-term solution is reorganizing the system,” he added as he revealed that the supervision of the bureau’s Travel Control and Intelligence Unit and the Border Control and Intelligence Unit have been transferred under a different division to “add layers of checks and balances.”

Morente said the move will “serve as a sort of audit to the actions of those in the Port Operations Division, and dismantles any semblance of a central control of possible illegal activities.”

He, however, stressed that the real and long-term solution is the updating of the Philippine Immigration Act.

“We can remove people again and again, but the loopholes in the law remain. Quick wins may cure some symptoms in the anti- corruption drive but a responsive new Immigration law may yet cure systemic problems that breed corruption,” he said.

The BI chief earlier lamented that under the existing law, he has no disciplinary powers over his personnel, as “the power to hire and fire rests with the Secretary of Justice.”

The Immigration bureau is an attached agency of the Department of Justice.

Morente said the proposal to amend the Philippine Immigration law is already in Congress and called for its immediate passage.

“We thank our lawmakers for the support in our move to modernize the bureau so that once and for all we can rid of systemic issues that remain because of outdated policies,” he said.

PH Immigration to impose one-strike policy vs corruption

Robie de Guzman   •   November 5, 2020

MANILA, Philippines – The Bureau of Immigration (BI) on Thursday said it will implement a one-strike policy against its erring personnel as part of its efforts to fight corruption.

Under the one-strike policy, erring personnel who are the subject of complaints and investigations will be relieved from their posts immediately, the BI said.

The measure comes after several Immigration officials were subjected to investigation over their alleged involvement in the “pastillas” bribery scheme which allegedly takes advantage of Chinese nationals who wish to be escorted to dodge the immigration screening process for a fee.

Immigration Commissioner Jaime Morente said he has ordered the BI’s newly-reconstituted Board of Discipline (BOD) to “carefully assess complaints and reports against erring personnel” and to “immediately recommend to the Department of Justice (DOJ) the filing of administrative case” if they find merit.

The BI said that since 2016, one hundred thirty-one (131) personnel have been suspended, dismissed, and dropped from the rolls for various offenses.

“We do not tolerate corruption amongst our ranks,” Morente said.

“In support of the President’s intensified drive against corruption, we have beefed up our Board of Discipline (BOD) to focus on cleaning up the Bureau,” he added.

The BOD is currently headed by lawyer Ronaldo Ledesma, who previously served as the Bureau’s OIC Commissioner and OIC Deputy Commissioner. Five additional lawyers have also been assigned by the DOJ to the BOD.

The BI chief earlier lamented the bureau’s lack of disciplinary powers over its own employees, noting that its set up under the current immigration law is merely recommendatory to the DOJ.

“If administrative control was to be given to the BI, if we find someone involved in improper activities in the morning, we can immediately implement a suspension in the afternoon,” he said.

Morente also urged the public to report any illegal activities to the BI’s hotline +632 86452400 or via its Facebook page.

NBI exec, brother face raps over alleged pastillas scam

Robie de Guzman   •   September 23, 2020

MANILA, Philippines – The National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) has filed graft and extortion complaints against its official and his brother from the Bureau of Immigration (BI) over the alleged ‘pastillas scheme.’

Atty. Joshua Paul Capiral, NBI’s legal assistance chief, and his brother, Christopher John, an officer at the BI’s medical section, underwent inquest proceedings at the Department of Justice on Wednesday morning.

The brothers are facing extortion complaints under the Revised Penal Code, and violation of the Anti-Graft Practices Act, the Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Public Officials and Employees and the Executive Order No. 608 which established the national security clearance system for government personnel with access to classified matters.

The two were arrested in an entrapment operation on Monday night for allegedly receiving bribes from individuals implicated in the pastillas scheme in exchange for exclusion from the charges.

Nineteen Immigration officers allegedly linked to the pastillas scheme are currently facing charges filed by the NBI at the Office of the Ombudsman last month.

The modus was called pastillas, derived from a Filipino sweet and sticky dessert, because the bribe money that some personnel receive were wrapped in paper.

The scheme allegedly takes advantage of Chinese casino high-rollers and offshore gaming workers who wish to be escorted to dodge the immigration screening process for a fee.

Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra said he has ordered a reinvestigation into the pastillas scheme.

“Considering that the NBI investigation appeared to have been tainted, I will order a reinvestigation of the so-called ‘pastillas’ racket involving some unscrupulous BI employees,” he said in message to reporters.

Meanwhile, Immigration Commissioner Jaime Morente welcomed the development and assured support for the drive to cleanse the agency of corruption.

Morente also vowed to continue its campaign against corruption activities within the agency.

“We will continue to pursue our campaign against BI personnel engaged in corrupt activities in coordination with NBI and other law enforcement agencies in support of President Duterte’s desire to cleanse the agency,” he said. – RRD (with details from Correspondent Dante Amento)


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