83 BI personnel in ‘pastillas’ scam suspended
The Office of the Ombudsman has slapped a six-month preventive suspension without pay on 83 Bureau of Immigration (BI) employees facing charges over the “pastillas” bribery scheme that allowed Chinese nationals to enter the country without questions in exchange for a fee.
“This office finds that there is sufficient ground to preventively suspend all of the respondents considering that there is strong evidence showing their guilt; the charges against them for grave misconduct, gross dishonesty and conduct prejudicial to the best interest of the service may warrant their removal from the service; their continued stay in office may prejudice the investigation of the cases filed against them; and there is a need to preserve documents and evidence pertaining to this case which they have control and custody [of],” said the Nov. 19 order signed by Ombudsman Samuel Martires.
The order, however, did not cover Marc Red Mariñas—tagged as the ringleader of the group—and four others since they were no longer with the government.
Martires said that the administrative violations allegedly committed by the respondents were supported by “convincing testimonies” and official documents and records.
In October, the Ombudsman also issued a six-month preventive suspension order against 44 BI employees accused of involvement in the visa-upon-arrival scheme. The recent order said that this would suffice for the 44 respondents.
The number of immigration personnel implicated increased after the National Bureau of Investigation filed in November a second batch of graft charges against Mariñas and dozens of current and former BI personnel.
The NBI Special Action Unit submitted a sworn statement from immigration officer Jeffrey Dale Ignacio, who corroborated the testimony of the first whistleblower, Allison Chiong. Chiong had presented during a Senate hearing on the pastillas racket the list of names of foreign nationals, their flights and arrival dates, their status and the immigration officers who had processed their entry.
The Ombudsman, in its recent order, denied the petition to discharge Ignacio as state witness, saying it did not find sufficient justification for this in the early stages of the investigation.
The antigraft body may grant immunity to a person whose testimony or possession of documents can provide vital evidence, subject to conditions.
In a Senate hearing, Sen. Risa Hontiveros estimated that those involved in the racket, including some tour operators, had raked in about P10 billion since the early part of the Duterte administration. INQ