Immigration Commissioner Jaime Morente ordered a “total revamp” of immigration officers at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport due to the controversial “pastillas scheme,” which facilitated the illegal entry of Chinese nationals into the country in exchange for bribes.
Morente replaced all the terminal heads and counter personnel detailed at the NAIA terminals 1,2 and 3, allegedly involved in the modus effective immediately.
“The revamp covers all personnel assigned to NAIA terminals from Port Operations Division (POD) Deputies, Terminal Heads down to counter personnel, except Chief, POD which will be decided by DOJ. This practice of rotating and changing assignments on a regular and programmed basis is both a means to enable better performance and encourage skill upgrades, as well as a necessary precaution against possible avenues for graft and corruption,” Morente said in a statement.
The planned personnel movement are being made in compliance with the directive of President Rodrigo Duterte to revamp the bureau as necessary.
Morente said the changes in management responsibilities and section assignments in the airports are part of the ongoing actions that are being taken to address the recent resurgence of unauthorized activities and irregularities, as major steps have already been made to address these issues since 2016.
“These irregularities and their consequences impact on morale and detract from the professionalism and service that the men and women of the Bureau of Immigration are pledged to provide,” he said.
Morente said the bureau has also activated new protocols in the conduct of secondary inspections in open areas for transparency, as well as the installation of additional CCTV cameras in all areas of primary inspectors.
“While the accused have been put under the admin holding office and their privileges have been canceled, we are duty-bound to observe due process as we bring said accused to the courts of justice. The appropriate disciplinary and administrative sanctions will be implemented according to the findings and decisions of the proper courts, both administrative and criminal,” he said.
Morente said the accused counterparts both in China and in the Philippines reportedly receive bulk of the grease money given by Chinese nationals who avail of the VIP treatment.
“We see this as one of the major root causes, as these agencies are the source of the corruption. Hence, we seek assistance from law enforcement agencies to expand the probe and file criminal cases against erring immigration personnel and these private entities as well, to break the chain of corruption and finally put an end to this illegal scheme,” he added.
Meanwhile, Morente has sought the assistance of the National Bureau of Investigation to help them investigate private entities, including recruiters or travel agencies, involved in the ‘pastillas’ bribery scam.
Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra said in a statement earlier that it would be difficult to break a syndicate operating within the Bureau of Immigration because of its ties with groups in China.
“This seems to be a big syndicate that could have originated not from…[the] airport. This is why it’s a bit difficult to break this syndicate,” Guevarra said.
Guevarra said Chinese tour operators appear to be in cahoots with erring BI officers and personnel who were implicated.
The scheme, in which bureau personnel receive kickbacks to facilitate the entry of Chinese nationals, who pay a “service fee” of P10,000 per head, was exposed during a Senate inquiry presided by Senator Risa Hontiveros.
The whistleblower Immigration officer Allison Chiong identified officials and employees involved in the bribery syndicate, saying Chinese nationals could skip the immigration process if their names are found in a master list.
The Bureau earlier implemented new protocols in the conduct of secondary inspections in open areas for transparency, as well as the installation of additional CCTV cameras in all areas of primary inspectors.
“While the accused have been put under the Admin holding office and their privileges have been cancelled, we are duty-bound to observe due process as we bring said accused to the courts of justice. The appropriate disciplinary and administrative sanctions will be implemented according to the findings and decisions of the proper courts, both administrative and criminal,” said Morente.