The chief of the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) Legal Assistance Bureau was arrested Monday night for allegedly accepting bribes from those involved in the alleged “pastillas” scheme in the Bureau of Immigration (BI).
The scheme was called “pastillas” supposedly because the bribe money would be rolled in a sheet of bond paper like the wrapping of the Filipino milk candy of the same name.
The arrest of the NBI official was confirmed by Janet Francisco, chief of the NBI Anti-Human Trafficking Division, upon questioning by Senator Risa Hontiveros during a hearing of the Senate committee on women, children, family relations, and gender equality.
“Is it confirmed that the head of the NBI legal assistance bureau, Joshua Paul Capiral, was arrested last night (Monday) for receiving bribes from members of the pastillas gang in exchange for their exclusion from charges?” Hontiveros asked Francisco.
Francisco answered “yes” and said she verified that information from an official of the NBI Legal Service. She also said Capiral was nabbed in an entrapment operation.
Francisco futher told the Senate panel that a complaint will be filed against Capiral before the Department of Justice.
“For the sake of our women and children, the masterminds of this ‘pastillas’ scam must be put behind bars,” said Hontiveros.
Hontiveros noted that the pastillas scam has given rise to prostitution of trafficked women who were found to be servicing Chinese workers of the Philippine Offshore Gaming Operators or POGO industry.
She said these Chinese workers are often the clientele of the ‘pastillas’ scam, in which an extra P10,000 service fee per individual is paid to the bureau and travel agencies to allow them seamless entry into the country.
She related that the NBI has already filed a complaint against 20 individuals, composed of 19 BI officers and an owner of a travel agency, who are allegedly involved in the pastillas scheme.
However, while welcoming the filing of cases, Hontiveros asserted that her sources, including whistleblower Allison Chiong, have said that these individuals are not the main architects of the ‘pastillas operation.
She pressed the NBI to identify and file charges against the “big fish” behind the pastillas scam.
“The big fish have not been caught. The small-time should not be the only ones charged while the big-time have remained unscathed,” the senator said.
“There was alarming evidence presented in our hearing linking big names in politics and the government,” said Hontiveros.
Former presidential special envoy to China and columnist Ramon Tulfo has tagged former Department of Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II as one of the protectors of the alleged masterminds of the pastillas scheme.
Appearing the same hearing, Aguirre challenged Tulfo to file cases against him over allegations that he provided protection to the pastillas gang and face him in a proper forum.
Insisting on his innocence, Aguirre said has been a member of the Bar for 48 years of good standing.
“I have no derogatory records. I graduated valedictorian at San Beda College of Law. In short, my reputation, as well as my family’s good name, is at stake here,” Aguirre told Hontiveros panel.
“You have absolutely no right to use his august body to malign and discredit me or bring dishonor to my family,” he also said.
Aguirre said the allegations against him by Tulfo were fueled by personal vendetta and dirty politics.
“Similarly, not an iota of evidence was presented during the previous hearings conducted by this committee linking me to the pastillas scheme. Even Mr. Allison Chong, the alleged whistleblower, never once mentioned my name in the entire proceedings. It was only Mr. Tulfo who repeatedly mentioned my name sans any concrete evidence,” Aguirre said.
Senator Franklin Drilon said said Capiral’s involvement in the pastillas scheme gave credence to Chiong’s allegations that those who were not charged could in fact be guilty because of a cover-up.
“He (Capiral) was the one given the task fo investigating the pastillas scam,” Drilon said.
Drilon congratulated the NBI for arresting one of its own.
“This is really shocking,” he said.
“I… propose to the committee that we strongly recommend a top-to-bottom reorganization of the BI, because, apparently, after the committee unearthed this and after the investigation was conducted, [the corruption continued]. Worse, there is already a cover up,” Drilon said.