IMMIGRATION officers have allegedly received an estimated P1 billion as “service fees” from Chinese nationals who are registered as tourists but actually work for Philippine Offshore Gaming Operators (Pogo) outlets, Senator Risa Hontiveros said.
Hontiveros, citing an unnamed whistleblower from the Bureau of Immigration (BI), exposed the “pastillas” modus between Chinese nationals and immigration officers during a Senate committee hearing on Monday, February 17, 2020.
BI officials were quick to defend the bureau and said they were implementing measures to deter such schemes.
“Actually, this is the first time that I saw this particular breakdown of accounts,” Immigration Port Operations Division acting chief Grifton Medina told Hontiveros.
Hontiveros was not convinced.
"Kung may reforms talaga, matagal nang inalam ‘yung ganyang klaseng operations. Only two things are evident here: nagmamaang-maangan kayo pero alam niyo ang nangyayari or hindi niyo alam ang nangyayari. Either you are complicit or you are negligent. I don't know which is worse," she said.
"The lion's share goes to the bosses," Hontiveros told BI officials during the hearing.
"Somebody rigged the system, centralized the operations, and made this into a billion-peso enterprise," Hontiveros added.
According to Hontiveros, at least P10,000 per service is being offered to immigration officials and distributed among airport and travel employees so Chinese nationals can be escorted to the bureau’s “inner office”.
"Bakit parang may VIP escort itong mga Chinese nationals papasok ng bansa? Wag na 'wag niyong lolokohin ang taumbayan. Hindi standard procedure yan," Hontiveros said, showing screenshots of Viber chat groups with names and flight details of Chinese nationals.
The senator said the scheme is called “pastillas” because the money being handed to BI officers used to be wrapped with bond paper and rolled.
“Dati raw kasi, wala pang mga sobre so nilalagay sa bond paper at niro-rolyo na parang pastillas," she said.
"Ngayon, mas professional na, may sobre parang legit na pasuweldo, may bonus pag perfect attendance, at may pa-lunch pa mula sa mga Chinese," she added.
The senator vowed to further investigate the scheme, saying that the system is centralized and protected by the agency’s higher-ups.
"'Yung mga Pilipino, ang hirap hirap makapunta sa ibang bansa, pinapahirapan sa immigration. Pero ang sa'tin, parang karinderyang bukas sa lahat. Ang sinasaabi nila maraming investments itong Pogo. Pero imbes na investments, bakit parang naging invasion? " Hontiveros said.
"Hindi magiging ganito ka-garapal ang mga ilegal na Pogo operations kung walang protektor at kumikita ng milyon-milyon kailangan natin matunton kung sino ang pinaka-pinuno nitong scam na ito," she added. (SunStar Philippines)