President Rodrigo Duterte has prepared his own brand of ‘pastillas,’ which would be difficult to swallow for those involved in the massive corruption at the Bureau of Immigration (BI) under the ‘pastillas scheme,’ Senator Christopher “Bong” Go said Wednesday.
“And this pastillas are not sweet. I’m sure, this would be difficult to swallow,” said Go, a former presidential aide.
A Senate investigation led by Senator Risa Hontiveros said that the masterminds in the ‘pastillas’ modus had reportedly pocketed a whooping P40 billion which came from facilitating the arrivals of Chinese nationals through the so-called Visa Upon Arrival and the “pastillas scam” (non-VUA transactions) schemes.
Go said the President is awaiting the results of the investigations on the alleged multi-billion ‘pastillas scheme’ at the BI.
He added that the President and his administration remain committed in stamping out systemic corruption in government.
Go likewise urged authorities to prosecute and hold accountable the ‘masterminds’ behind this modus operandi.
During a public hearing held by the Senate Committee on Women, Children, Family Relations, and Gender Equality, Go called on the National Bureau of Investigation anew to ‘work double time’ in investigating the alleged corruption issues within the BI.
“To the NBI, please work double time in your investigation. Our beloved President is already waiting and he has prepared the pastillas he would feed to those involved,” said Go.
Go also appealed to heads of agencies and departments to cleanse their own offices of systemic corruption in order to improve services to Filipinos.
“Let us not be afraid to investigate, prosecute, audit, lifestyle check, and put in jail those who must account for their transgressions,” he said.
Despite the alleged corruption, Go said he believes that there are still good people working in the BI. He also challenged BI Commissioner Jaime Morente to cleanse the ranks in the Bureau.
“There is Commissioner Jaime Morente. I’m challenging you to cleanse the ranks in your office because our President has high expectations on you,” he added.
In his manifestation, Go also thanked the new witnesses who brought light into the Senate investigation. He called on others who have witnessed corruption in the BI to come forward.
He however expressed dismay on why the masterminds have yet to be identified and made to account for their crimes.
Go also lamented the fact that the augmentation pay given to immigration employees had not been enough to stop corruption in the bureau.
If needed, Go said, he will recommend the creation of a task force that will investigate the corruption issues within the BI.
He expressed hopes that the corruption issues in the BI finally resolved and for perpetrators to be held accountable.
Meanwhile, Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra said considerable low salary grades at the BI may have driven some immigration officials to engage in racketeering and acts of corruption.
“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,” Guevarra said in a text message.
The Justice Secretary made the statement after it was exposed in a Senate hearing that a notorious “business model” of visa scams and other rackets have allegedly been taking place in the BI that allowed corrupt officials to pocket P40-billion since year 2017.
But Guevarra, who exercises administrative supervision over the BI, said that receiving low salaries should not be a reason for government officials and their personnel to engage in illegal activities.
“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,” he said.
During the Senate hearing, it was found out that the bulk of illegal money was traced to the facilitation of arrivals of Chinese nationals through the so-called VUA and other schemes.
“Bribery and corruption, such as the ‘pastillas scam’, by their very nature, are often done clandestinely and without any paper trail, so estimates as to their magnitude remain in the realm of mere possibilities,” Guevarra said.
Guevarra said that in order to have a better idea if a government official or employee is engaged in corruption and other money-making schemes is by determining the person’s wealth via a lifestyle check.
“A fair indicator of such magnitude, though not necessarily conclusive, is the lifestyle being led by people suspected of these wrongdoings, in relation to their regular compensation as government employees,” he said.
The DOJ had asked Congress to pass the modernization bill for their agency to improve the services and benefits of the employees. At present, the BI is still utilizing the Commonwealth Act 613 or the Philippine Immigration Act of 1940 that is already antiquated.
“We have indicated the BI modernization bill as a priority administration bill. We hope that Congress will finally give the attention long overdue to this agency,” he said.
Guevarra also clarified that the Philippine Retirement Authority, not the BI, which has the responsibility in evaluating and processing of the application for retirement visas.
“It is the Philippine Retirement Authority that evaluates and processes applications for retirement visas,” he said. “The BI has no supervisory power over the PRA.”