BI employees sacked over ‘pastillas’ scam no longer reporting for work
MANILA, Philippines — The 45 Bureau of Immigration (BI) officers and employees ordered dismissed last week by the Ombudsman for their involvement in the so-called pastillas bribery scheme have stopped going to work, according to a Department of Justice (DOJ) official.
“It appears that the BI has implemented the Ombudsman decision upon its receipt. That is why the 45 are no longer reporting for work,” Justice Assistant Secretary Neal Bainto said on Monday, adding that the dismissal order was “immediately executory.”
In a 143-page consolidated decision dated June 6, the Office of the Ombudsman said that it found the 45 respondents “administratively liable” for grave misconduct and conduct prejudicial to the best interest for accepting bribes from foreigners, mostly Chinese nationals, in exchange for giving them special treatment upon their arrival in the country.
“[This] Office finds that respondents acted willfully and with a corrupt motive,” read the decision signed and approved by Ombudsman Samuel Martires. The charges against the respondents were filed by the National Bureau of Investigation’s Special Action Unit in 2020.
Included in the dismissal order were Grifton Medina, acting chief of the BI’s ports operations division and several other immigration officers who, along with former immigration official Marc Red Mariñas and private respondent Liya Wu, were charged with graft by the Ombudsman before the Sandiganbayan on June 6 over the scam.
The penalties against the dismissed BI personnel included the cancellation of their eligibilities, forfeiture of their retirement benefits, and perpetual disqualification from holding public office and taking civil service examinations.
In his State of the Nation Address last year, President Rodrigo Duterte claimed that he had “fired” all the bureau personnel involved in the bribery scheme only to be contradicted by Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra who said that they had merely been suspended for six months without pay.
At the same time, the Ombudsman dismissed the same administrative charges, as well as a complaint for serious or gross dishonesty and gross neglect of duty, against 40 other BI personnel.
It also cleared Mariñas and four others, citing “lack of jurisdiction.” Mariñas had resigned from the immigration bureau even before the scam was exposed by Sen. Risa Hontiveros to run for Muntinlupa mayor in the 2019 elections. He lost his mayoral bid.
The “pastillas” scam, named after the popular Filipino milk candy because the bribe money was wrapped in white paper and rolled up to look like the delicacy, involved Chinese nationals who were allowed to enter the country without undergoing standard immigration procedures.
It was exposed in 2020 during a Senate hearing led by the committee on women, children, family relations and gender equality chaired by Hontiveros on crimes involving Philippine offshore gaming operators (Pogos).
Under the protection racket, corrupt BI officers connived with tour operators to provide “VIP treatment” to Chinese nationals who wanted to work for Pogos illegally for a P10,000 “service fee.”
The main witness, immigration officer Allison “Alex” Chiong, who was assigned at Ninoy Aquino International Airport, also revealed “special arrangements” for blacklisted Chinese, or those with derogatory records, that cost from P50,000 to P200,000 per head.
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