43 who were supposedly ‘fired’ for ‘pastillas’ scam back from suspension
MANILA, Philippines — Not one of the dozens of immigration officers allegedly involved in the so-called “pastillas” scheme had been fired for corruption by President Rodrigo Duterte, contrary to his claim during his State of the Nation Address (Sona), Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra said on Wednesday.
Corrupt Bureau of Immgration (BI) personnel have allegedly been pocketing an estimated P40 billion in grease money to facilitate the entry of thousands of Chinese nationals, many of them intending to work illegally in online gaming outfits in the country, since 2017.
The pastillas scheme, which was so called as the bribe money was rolled up in a manner that made it look like the popular Filipino milk-based candy, was exposed during Senate hearings led by Sen. Risa Hontiveros in February 2020.
“There were 43 personnel involved. I fired them all. I really dismissed them from the government,” Duterte reported to the nation on Monday.
He said he even ordered money be wrapped up like pastillas because “that is what I will make them eat.”
“It was a good thing that Justice Secretary Guevarra was there, so that prevented me from doing it because if he did not come — and I never expected him to be there — I would have given each of them that paper and I would have really made them eat it.”
In November, Malacañang released pictures of rolled-up bills placed on the chairs where the erring immigration officers were to sit during a meeting with the president.
Guevarra on Wednesday said the 43 BI agents that the president was referring to, along with 40 others, had already returned to work after a six-month suspension without pay.
“No, they were not fired or dismissed precisely because the investigation of their cases is still going on,” Guevarra told reporters in a Viber message.
“These BI personnel have returned to the main office, but most of them have not been given assignments while their cases remain pending,” he said.
The criminal charges against them are still pending in the Office of the Ombudsman and separate administrative cases are under review by the Department of Justice (DOJ), Guevarra said.
When asked whether the immigration agents would be able to go back to their former posts, the justice secretary said: “It’s up to the BI commissioners if they wish to give these subject personnel any new assignments.”
He said the most senior immigration officer implicated in the corruption scandal, Grifton Medina, was not reinstated as chief of the BI Ports Operations Division.
Guevarra told reporters in November that Duterte planned a “dressing down” of the erring immigration officers who were given the pastillas money to eat, but the president had calmed down during the confrontation.
“He said, ‘Either you eat it or give it to the first beggar you see.’ In the end, he stated that the cases had been filed and that they simply had to face them,” Guevarra said.
Duterte promised to end corruption in six months. But nearly six years after making that pledge, he said corruption could not be eradicated as it was “endemic in government.”
Hontiveros said the suspension imposed on the immigration officers ended without anyone being penalized for allowing the entry of illegal aliens and for facilitating the trafficking of Filipino women and young girls.
“I urge the DOJ to indefinitely suspend the officers who are alleged to be part of this crime,” she said. “A six-month suspension is not enough.”
—WITH REPORTS FROM LEILA B. SALAVERRIA AND MELVIN GASCON
Subscribe to INQUIRER PLUS to get access to The Philippine Daily Inquirer & other 70+ titles, share up to 5 gadgets, listen to the news, download as early as 4am & share articles on social media. Call 896 6000.