PRESIDENT Rodrigo Duterte has relieved all Immigration officials and employees involved in the so-called “pastillas” bribery scheme that allegedly gives VIP treatment to Chinese visitors, his spokesperson said yesterday.
“May nag-report, may nagreklamo, and apparently the proof constitutes probable cause. That’s why they were sacked,” presidential spokesperson Salvador Panelo said.
He did not specify which officers and how many have been relieved from their posts.
Five immigration officials at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport were relieved on Monday as the Bureau of Immigration investigates the extortion scheme. This came after a Senate investigation exposed the alleged pay-off racket run by several Immigration officials that gives Chinese nationals easy access to the country for a fee of 10,000.
At the hearing of the Senate Committee on Women, Children, Family Relations and Gender Equality on Monday, Senator Risa Hontiveros showed screenshots of a group chat of immigration officers on a daily list of names of foreigners and their flight details. Once the Chinese national arrives, the immigration officer on duty would leave his booth and tell the foreigner to follow him to a holding room, where the visitor’s passport is processed for entry.
This is a departure from the standard practice where all foreigners are screened through the Immigration booths in ports.
The bribe is called “pastillas” because the cash payments used to be distributed to immigration officers rolled inside a sheet of bond paper resembling the wrapper of the milk candy.
During the follow-up hearing on Thursday, immigration officer Allison Chiong said at least 90 percent of frontline Immigration officers are involved in the “pastillas” scheme.
Panelo said the “pastillas” scheme and the manner by which Immigration Commissioner Jaime Morente is running the bureau will be discussed in the next Cabinet meeting.
“The President considers this anomaly as a grave form of corruption, which cannot and will never be countenanced by the government. As we have repeatedly stressed, there are no sacred cows in this administration,” he said.
Hontiveros said the relief order of Duterte is a positive step towards fixing the bureau, adding she hopes the relieved officials will not be reappointed to a different government position.
“I welcome the continuing clean up of the Bureau of Immigration. Sobrang garapalan na ng operations,” she said.