By Hannah Torregoza
Senator Risa Hontiveros on Monday said she finds it highly questionable how a former Bureau of Immigration (BI) official on Salary Grade 13 was able to mount a political campaign in 2018 to 2019 and run for mayor of Muntinlupa City.
Hontiveros was referring to Marc Red Mariñas, who was appointed to a key position at the BI together with his father, apparently with the imprimatur of then-justice secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II.
Mariñas, former BI Deputy Commissioner, who was appointed head of the Port Operations Division (POD) in July 2016, appeared at the Senate women and children’s inquiry into the prostitution and sex-trafficking related to Philippine offshore gaming operations (POGO) and denied allegations he was involved in the alleged “pastillas” racket.
However, Hontiveros said there are enough signs he personally knew of the modus that involves accepting grease money in exchange for the easy entry of Chinese nationals into the country.
For one, she said the fact that Aguirre issued Department Circular 041 to facilitate the seamless entry of Chinese nationals into the Philippines by granting the POD and the Special Operations Communications Unit (SOCU) the power to review, assess, and prepare orders on all requests for issuance of Visa Upon Arrival (VUA) in 2017, is itself questionable.
At that time, Mariñas’ father, Maynard, was appointed to head the SOCU. It was Allison Chiong, a frontline immigration officer at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA), who blew the whistle on the alleged “pastillas” scheme.
Veteran columnist Ramon Tulfo, on the other hand, testified at the hearing that Chiong disclosed to him Aguirre was the “protector” of these syndicates operating in the NAIA and BI.
“Our border control was bought off by Chinese money, and no less than our government officials had a hand in them. Mag-ama, magkakaibigan, magkakatropa (father and son, close friends are involved),” Hontiveros remarked in the hearing.
“There was, from the outset, conflict of interest,” she pointed out.
She also took note of the younger Mariñas’ failure to file his Statement of Assets, Liabilities and Net worth (SALN) from 2014 to 2016 and in 2018. He claimed his SALN was lost. But in his 2017 SALN, Marc Red posted a net worth of P5 million.
In contrast, his security guard Fidel Mendoza registered a P7.8 million net worth, despite being on Salary Grade 11 or P11,000 monthly pay.
“Twenty-four thousand pesos (P24,000) ang sahod, pero may mahigit limang milyong pisong net worth? Nawawalang SALN, mga net worth na hindi katumbas ng salary grade. Hindi na ito bago. Classic corrupt moves ito (A salary of P24,000 but he has more than P5 million net worth? Missing SALNs, net worth that does not reflect the salary grade. This is nothing new. These are classic corrupt moves),” Hontiveros pointed out.
“Bistong-bisto na, pero deny pa!… Tama na ang palusot niyo (They are already caught, and yet they still deny it!) Stop the excuses!” she said in exasperation.
In a text message sent to reporters, Aguirre said he is willing to testify before Hontiveros’ committee to refute the allegations against him.
He said the charges that Tulfo hurled against him “are absolute lies and complete fabrications.”
“I was told that he was the only saying that in the Senate. That even his so-called whistleblower did not say what he was accusing me of. I filed numerous libel and cyber libel cases against Tulfo because of these same defamatory accusations, and all these complaints filed almost two years ago are now pending before the RTCs (regional trial courts) of Manila,” Aguirre said.
“For repeating these falsities, I will write the Senate committee of Sen. Hontiveros to invite me and Tulfo if there is any future hearing so I could refute them and tell Tulfo to his face that he is a liar,” he added.
“I will again file new cases against Tulfo. Kahit saan (Anywhere), I could face anybody for I am completely innocent of his charges.”