It was revealed on Thursday that Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte had dismissed all Immigration Bureau (PI) officials and workers who were allegedly involved in the so-called ‘Pastillas’ bribery scandal. The scheme allowed staff from China’s Philippine Offshore Gaming Operator (POGO) to enter the Philippines without a work visa.
In a statement issued by the presidential spokesman Salvador Panelo, he said, “The President considers this anomaly, which some define as the pastillas scheme, as a grave form of corruption which cannot be countenanced by the government.”
This Pastillas scheme got its name from the Philippine snack, whose wrapper was used to hide the bribes given to officers. The scheme involved cooperation between BI workers, tourism agencies, and airport staff according to allegations. Working with tourism companies, the Chinese nationals obtained tourist visas. After arriving at the airport, they would be taken to a POGO to start work. They wouldn’t have the proper documentation but wouldn’t need to provide it, with BI workers involved in the controversy.
Allison Chiong, an immigration officer, recently told the Senate Committee on Women, Children, Family Relations and Gender Equality that he had captured videos showing officers trying to get these Chinese workers to work for POGOs via Ninoy Aquino International Airport.
Not only has he been able to provide video evidence, but Chiong has also given names of both current and former immigration officials involved in the scheme. That included officers of the Traffic Control Enforcement Unit, Bien Guevarra, Glenn Comia, and Den Binsol. He also identified several key BI officials involved, including Totoy Magbuhos, Deon Albao alias Nancy, Paul Borja alias Lisa, Anthony Lopez alias AL, and Dennis Robles alias DR.
Panella clarified that when Duterte received reports about the scam, the decision to sack the officials involved was taken: “As we have repeatedly stressed, there are no sacred cows in this administration. Any official or employee who commits any wrong in the performance of their respective duties shall be meted out with the punishment that they deserve and in accordance with our penal laws.”
Philippine Senator Risa Hontiveros has been calling for a detailed investigation of POGOs to see how far the corruption has spread. She estimated that in recent years a total of 1.8 million Chinese nationals have arrived in the Philippines, and according to her estimates, the bribery scheme could easily have earned at least PHP 10 billion ($200 million) to the perpetrators.