The Office of the Ombudsman has filed graft charges before the Sandiganbayan against 42 Bureau of Immigration (BI) personnel allegedly involved in the “pastillas scam,” or bribery, that allows the illegal entry of Chinese citizens into the country.
In a 17-page information, the Ombudsman said then-Deputy Commissioner Marc Mariñas of the Port Operations Division conspired with other immigration personnel, as well as with Liya Wu of Empire International Travel and Tours, to “willfully, unlawfully and give unwarranted benefits, preference or advantage to foreign passengers, particularly Chinese nationals.”
The group allegedly collected a fee of P10,000 per passenger for a total amount of P1.43 million, in violation of Section 3 of the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act.
Other immigration officials charged with graft include Senior Immigration Officers Grifton Medina, Edwin Ortañez, and Glenn Comia, among others.
“Bosses or Chinese suppliers acted as conduits between the travel agencies and the immigration officers manning the immigration counters at NAIA Terminals 1 and 2. They receive a list of passenger names from travel agencies and cascade said list to the administrators of Viber chat groups,” the criminal information read.
“The bosses or Chinese suppliers receive the regular pay-outs from travel agencies usually wrapped like the local candy pastillas and then caused the distribution of the shares to the pastillas to the different members of the pastillas scheme,” it added.
Mariñas and his team, the government prosecutors said, controlled the incoming passengers and distributed commissions or money to other participants in the scheme.
On the other hand, the government prosecutors accused Wu of providing a list of Chinese passengers who would like to avail of the “VIP treatment” for a fee of P10,000 per passenger and identified the same as one of the travel agency owners who paid money for the seamless entry of Chinese individuals into the country.
“The above acts of accused public officials thus allowed entry of foreign passengers in the country without going through regular and stringent profiling or screening processes in violation of existing immigration rules and procedures, to the prejudice of the government and public interest, contrary to law,” the criminal information added.
In a statement, Senator Risa Hontiveros welcomed the filing of charges against immigration personnel who were previously subjected to a Senate investigation into the matter.
“I am happy that our findings of our Senate Committee on Women were agreed upon by the Ombudsman. This is a victory for the women and the youth who fell victims to human trafficking, especially those who bravely testified on their plight like Carina and Ivy,” she said.
“This shows that Senate Committee hearings can be a force for good, and the Senate can do good work to aid law enforcement agencies to fight corruption.”
However, Hontiveros appealed to Ombudsman Samuel Martires to consider Jeffrey Dale Ignacio, an Immigration Officer III, as a whistleblower and not among those charged, given that his testimony had been key in unearthing such a scheme.
“The Senate committee thanked Dale [for his testimony] and it is in the Committee Report adopted unanimously by the Senate,” she said.
For its part, the BI said: “The Bureau welcomes this development and remains committed to the pursuit of truth and justice.”
The Department of Justice, which supervises the BI, declined to comment on the filing of charges.
“I need to see the resolution of the Ombudsman before I can make any comment,” Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra said in a message to reporters on Tuesday.
GMA News sought comments from those charged, but they have yet to respond as of posting time. —with Mel Matthew Doctor/KBK/VBL, GMA News