The Department of Justice (DOJ) assured on Wednesday, Oct, 21, that it will continue to investigate the possible involvement of Bureau of Immigration (BI) officials and personnel in the ‘pastillas’ money-making scheme.
Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra made this assurance amid reports that BI officials and personnel involved in the scheme may have amassed around P40 billion in bribes.
“Salary grades at the BI have not been upgraded for decades, and this is probably one reason why rackets and other acts of corruption have remained prevalent in that agency,” he noted.
“But low pay is not a valid reason to break the law, and those who smear the dignity of their public office will continue to be vigorously investigated and prosecuted,” Guevarra assured.
During the Senate hearing on the money-making schemes at the BI, Sen. Risa Hontiveras said the those involved in the racket may have pocketed around P40 billion since 2017 in facilitating the entry of Chinese nationals and the departure of trafficked persons.
So far, the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) filed last Sept. 1 a criminal complaint before the Office of the Ombudsman (OMB) against 19 BI officers and personnel for their alleged involvement in the “pastillas” money-making scheme.
Both the NBI and BI are attached agencies under the DOJ.
Those named as respondents in the complaint are Grifton San Pedro Medina, Deon Carlo Albao, Fidel Mendoza, Abdulhafez dela Tonga Hadjibasher, Gabriel Ernest Mitra Estacio, Ralph Ryan Macahilo Garcia, Phol Bendana Villanueva, Abdul Fahad Guro Calca, Danilo Caro Deudor, Mark Dollete Macababad, Aurelio Somera Lucero III, George Bituin, Salahudin Pacalda Hadjinoor, Chevy Chase Reyes Naniong, Jeffrey Dale Salamde Ignacio, Hamza Usudan Pacasum, Manuel Brillante Sarmiento III, Cherry Pie Payabyab Ricolcol, and Er German Tegio Robin.
The NBI has recommended to the OMB that all 19 immigration officers (IOs) and immigration personnel (IPs) “be criminally and administratively charged with violations of Sections 3(a) and 3(j) of RA (Republic Act) 3019 otherwise known as the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act.”
The bureau also asked the OMB that all 19 BI IOs and IPs “be immediately placed under Preventive Suspension to preclude them from influencing instant investigation.”
The NBI also recommended that IO Ignacio also be indicted for qualified trafficking in persons in violation of RA 9208 or the Anti-Trafficking in Persons Act of 2003 and Empire International Travel and Tours owner Liya Wu for corruption of public officials in violation of Article 212 of the Revised Penal Code (RPC).
The bureau said investigators verified and looked into the sworn testimony of a whistleblower, an immigration officer who stated that “the Immigration Officers (IO)/ Immigration Personnel (IP) involved in the Pastillas scheme conspired, confederated, mutually helped and aid one another in directly and indirectly requesting and receiving money, gifts, and other benefits, including sexual favors from trafficked foreign women.”
“These IOs/IPs allow foreign nationals entry in the country despite the absence of the necessary documents as required by prevailing Immigration rules and regulations in exchange of so-called ‘pastillas’ money,” the NBI said.