New ‘pastillas’ raps tag alleged brains
The National Bureau of Investigation on Thursday filed criminal charges against retired port operations chief Marc Red Mariñas, the alleged mastermind of the “pastillas” racket, and dozens of former and current employees of the Bureau of Immigration (BI) implicated in the airport extortion scheme.
The complaint filed in the Office of the Ombudsman raised to 86 the total number of people linked to the scam to allow the seamless entry into the country of thousands of foreigners, mostly Chinese, who intended to work illegally in the country since 2017.
The NBI said Mariñas and the others violated the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act for “persuading, inducing or influencing” other public officials to carry out a task in violation of a government agency’s regulations or were themselves committing such a violation and also for granting a privilege or license to unqualified people.
“The act of one is the act of all,” the NBI said in its letter to the Ombudsman that accompanied its complaint.
It said that based on BI records and testimonies of witnesses, “the conspiracy” involving immigration officers in the pastillas group had been “clearly established,” adding that “they must be charged criminally and administratively.”
Mariñas was identified by whistleblower and immigration officer Jeffrey Dale Ignacio as the pastillas “ring leader” during a Senate hearing on the multibillion-peso racket.
Emeterio Dongallo, the NBI Special Action Unit chief, said the number of people implicated in the scam increased following an analysis of travel documents of foreigners who entered the country through the scheme.
“We retrieved plenty of travel documents from the BI. We traced the stamps and matched it with the officers in the counter,” Dongallo said.
He added that the NBI also obtained substantial information from the Viber chat group used by the pastillas operators.
In September, the NBI filed graft charges against the first group of people linked to the racket—19 immigration officers, including Ignacio, and a Chinese tour operator.
Ignacio became a whistleblower, telling investigators that he joined the racket in 2017 as a “foot soldier.”
In its letter, the NBI requested Ombudsman Samuel Martires to discharge him as a respondent to allow him to serve as state witness.
It also asked that the other respondents be placed under preventive suspension. Martires had already suspended without pay 44 immigration employees linked to the scheme.
The NBI, quoting Ignacio, said the immigration officials who allegedly led the racket headed the travel control and enforcement unit at Ninoy Aquino International Airport.
Visa upon arrival
In his sworn statement to the NBI, Ignacio corroborated immigration officer Allison Chiong’s testimonies on the racket, which took advantage of the government’s visa-upon-arrival policy.
The influx of Chinese nationals prompted the pastillas group to recruit more staff to man additional counters to facilitate their entry, Ignacio said.
Chiong, the first whistleblower, presented during the pastillas scam hearing in the Senate the list of names of foreign nationals, their flights and arrival dates, their status and the officers who processed their entry.
The BI confirmed the arrivals and noted that these foreigners already exceed their allowed period of stay.
Ignacio also bared that after the NBI filed the initial complaint, members of the group held separate meetings. At one of the meetings, NBI legal officer Joshua Capiral showed up.
Capiral, who evaluated the first complaint, was arrested by the NBI for allegedly extorting money from the implicated immigration officers, including Ignacio, in exchange for a favorable decision.
Dongallo said that this time, seasoned investigators and lawyers of the NBI evaluated the case before filing charges against Mariñas and the others.
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