NBI widening probe of immigration bureau ‘fixers’
MANILA, Philippines — Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra on Tuesday ordered the National Bureau of Investigation to widen its probe into the operations of “fixers” who facilitate the entry of foreigners with the help of corrupt immigration personnel.
Guevarra issued the directive after Sen. Risa Hontiveros revealed that the “pastillas” scam had grown bigger despite the indictment of several Bureau of Immigration (BI) officials on charges of mulcting billions of pesos from Chinese nationals wanting to work in online gaming establishments here.
Hontiveros earlier said erring BI personnel had skimmed off as much as P40 billion for operating the pastillas scheme, so-named as the bribe money is rolled like the local milk candy.
Last week, the NBI arrested a woman, identified as Vivian Lara, who introduced herself as an employee of a law firm right inside the BI building in Intramuros, Manila, after she supposedly received P900,000 for processing the visa of three Chinese tourists.
‘Fixer’ caught at BI
According to the bureau, Lara was a “fixer” who processes the travel documents of aliens by charging them exorbitant fees. She was allegedly caught receiving the money inside the office of BI lawyer Arnulfo Maminta.
“I have directed the NBI to expand its investigation of ‘fixers’ activities at the BI and find out who their cohorts are among the BI personnel,” Guevarra told the Inquirer.
“I thought it was only COVID-19 that mutates, but apparently so does the pastillas scam,” said Hontiveros, who led the Senate inquiry into the fraudulent scheme.
Some travel agencies, she said, had apparently dipped their hands into the scheme, collecting up to P500,000 from Chinese nationals entering the country.
“I’ve called for a BI overhaul before and this needs to happen now as it seems the new scam features the same cast of characters,” she added.
Immigration Commissioner Jaime Morente said he had already sought the NBI’s assistance in identifying Lara’s possible cohorts among his subordinates.
He advised those transacting business with the BI to check its official website for the applicable fees, processes and other requirements for foreigners visiting the Philippines.
“We are very transparent with our procedures. All fees (to be paid) are found in our website to prevent unscrupulous individuals from tricking aliens into paying exorbitant amounts for their application,” Morente said.
“We are beefing up our strict ‘no fixers’ policy. We will not tolerate fixing of any kind,” he said.
Morente said he supported Hontiveros’ call for an NBI investigation into “syndicates that sell fake passports and ‘fix’ documents of illegal aliens.”
“We see that these illegal private entities that unlawfully recruit aliens to the country as one of the major root causes for this rotten system,” he said.
“While we have done internal cleansing and have put to justice those who were allegedly involved, expanding the probe to catch these illegal private entities will break the chain of corruption and stop this illegal scheme,” Morente said.
—WITH A REPORT FROM TINA G. SANTOS
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