AKBAYAN Senator Risa Hontiveros presented on Thursday, February 20, the whistleblower who exposed the alleged "pastillas” scheme within the Bureau of Immigration (BI).
Last Monday, Hontiveros bared the money-making scheme in the agency, alleging that officers have received around P1 billion as “service fees” from Chinese nationals who are registered as tourists but actually work for Philippine Offshore Gaming Operators (Pogo) firms.
Immigration officer Allison “Alex” Chiong, who presented himself as witness, said his primary function as an immigration officer involves operating the counter at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (Naia).
Chiong is also in charge with examining travel documents of departing and arriving passengers in the airport’s three terminals.
According to Chiong, the first Viber group to which the Chinese nationals’ names were sent was deleted after the agency’s illicit scheme came out.
“The first Viber group was deleted when the agency came under scrutiny to avoid detection, names of the Chinese nationals who were to be allowed VIP treatment were no longer sent through Viber,” Chiong said.
He added that the flow of operations changed and the Chinese nationals are now personally brought to the inner office of the Travel Control and Enforcement Unit (TCEU).
“The flow of the operations changed, the immigration officers at the counter were asked to bring each Chinese national to the holding area of the TCEU. A member of the TCEU will then check if the name of the Chinese national was in the list, then he or she will be allowed entry to the Philippines without further screening of profiling,” Chiong explained.
“Naturally, this new operation cause immigration officers great inconvenience since they have to stand up, leave their posts, then lead each and every arriving Chinese national to the TCEU holding areas everyday. Because of this, a new Viber group chat was created,” he added.
Chiong said the illegal operation spread fast and various immigration officers started to submit more names of Chinese nationals.
He claimed that these groups were headed by former Bureau of Immigration deputy commissioner Marc Red Mariñas, and Travel Control Enforcement Unit officials Bien Guevarra, Glenn Comia,Den Binsol, Totoy Magbuhos, Dion Albao, Paul Borja, Anthony Lopez, Dennis Robles, Erwin Ortañez, Fidel Mendoza, and Meynard Mariñas.
Hontiveros said there is a bigger story behind the modus.
“I know that this is only the tip of the iceberg. P10,000 ang binabayaran ng Chinese national na grease money, pero P2,000 lang ang pinaghahati-hatian sa airport bilang pastillas. Asaan ang P8,000 at sino ang naambunan nito? Ang saklaw ng kaalaman ng ating informant ay NAIA terminals lang. Paano ang ibang international airports kagaya ng sa Clark, sa Cebu, sa Kalibo, sa Davao?” she said.
The senator vowed to push through with the investigation, saying that mid-level employees only receive a small amount of cash from the billions of money accumulated from Chinese nationals.
“Barya lang ang napupunta sa mga immigration officers at mid-level employees sa airport. Hindi rin ang lahat ay tumatanggap. We need to go after the big fish because the money goes way beyond frontline employees-- Mas malaki ang kinikita ng mga protector at supplier. Milyones buwan-buwan ang natatanggap nila mula sa mga Chinese,” she said.