By Hannah Torregoza
Some resource persons who appeared at the continuation of the Senate committee on women and children’s investigation into the sex trafficking and prostitution dens linked to Philippine offshore gaming operators (POGOs) testified on Monday that it was former justice secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II who was the alleged “protector” of the so-called “pastillas” scheme within the Bureau of Immigration (BI).
Veteran columnist Ramon Tulfo, who was invited by Sen. Risa Hontiveros to shed light on the modus where BI officials allow the massive seamless entry of Chinese nationals into the Philippines in exchange for money, said it was whistleblower Allison “Alex” Chiong who “spilled the beans” about Aguirre’s involvement in the bribery scheme.
“Mr. Chiong said it is former justice secretary Vitaliano Aguirre who protected the syndicate behind this ‘pastillas’ scheme,” Tulfo told the panel, responding to a question posed by Hontiveros.
Asked to elaborate why Chiong pointed to Aguirre’s culpability, Tulfo said it was the former DOJ chief who practically “castrated” the authority of BI Commissioner Jaime Morente.
“For one, he castrated the powers of Commissioner Morente. Because the power to hire and fire and reassign immigration personnel should be laid on the responsibility of BI Commissioner Jaime Morente,” Tulfo said.
“But he removed that power and he abrogated it upon himself and appointed the father and son tandem.”
Tulfo was referring to Maynardo and Marc Red Mariñas. Aguirre, he said, appointed Maynardo to head the Special Operations Communication Unit (SOCU), while Marc Red served as head of the Port Operations Division (POD) of the BI.
Marc Red Mariñas, who was present during the Senate hearing, categorically denied the allegations.
Tulfo said he can vouch for Chiong’s credibility since the latter was once part of the syndicate responsible for the “pastillas” scheme. “If you compare their statements with Chiong, they (Mariñas) are lying.”
He added he didn’t know Chiong personally, but the latter sought him out at his office to divulge the existence of the syndicate at the bureau.
“He said he wanted to expose something so I allowed him to enter my office. I told him, you’re risking your life, but he told me ‘I need to do this’,” Tulfo said.
“He spilled the beans on all of his colleagues at NAIA and it was shocking to me. He told me everything.”
But when Sen. Ronald “Bato” Dela Rosa questioned Chiong’s credibility, Tulfo said it is easy to believe Chiong because he himself was part of the syndicate, and also brought with him additional evidence.
Chong, for his part, admitted to Dela Rosa that he also used to receive his share from the “pastillas” racket.
“Yes, your honor (I also accepted fruits of the crime). As I said before, in the previous hearing, the estimated amount given at Terminal 1 is P20,000 weekly, Terminal 3, P80,000. But I don’t know how much was given at Terminal 2, because I wasn’t assigned there),” Chiong said.
Hontiveros said she will invite Aguirre to appear at her panel’s next hearing to shed light on the issue.
“I – and I’m not alone — want to know his involvement in all these. We will call for Secretary Aguirre in the next hearing so he can explain his side.”