Senator Risa Hontiveros on Tuesday urged the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) to identify the masterminds of the so-called “pastillas” scam in the Bureau of Immigration (BI) and file charges against them.
Hontiveros pointed out the “big fish” have not been caught and it seems that only the small-time criminal syndicates are now facing charges.
This month, the NBI has filed cases against 20 individuals—19 BI officials and an owner of a travel agency—who are allegedly involved in the modus.
While she welcomes the filing of the cases, sources, including Allison Chiong, the immigration officer who blew the whistle on the modus, have said that these individuals are not the main architects of the illegal operation.
“The big fish have not been caught. Hindi pwedeng mga small-time lang ang mga kakasuhan, habang nagpapakasasa ang mga big-time, (We can’t allow that the small-time operators are the only ones facing charges, while the big-time syndicates are having a fun time),” said Hontiveros, during the Senate Women and Children Committee’s fifth hearing on the alleged bribery scheme at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) involving BI officials and some Chinese nationals.
“For the sake of our women and children, the masterminds of this ‘pastillas’ scam must be put behind bars,” she said.
Hontiveros defended her panel’s decision to pursue investigating the “pastillas” controversy even amid the country’s battle with the COVID-19 pandemic.
She pointed out that Chinese workers are often the clientele of corrupt immigration officials involved in the modus.
The increasing number of Chinese nationals entering into the country has also led to the rise of prostitution in the Philippines, the senator said.
“May nagtatanong, babalikan pa ba natin ang pastillas scam, nasa gitna tayo ng pandemic? Pero hindi ba natin naisip na baka kaya nakapasok ang COVID-19 sa Pilipinas ay dahil na rin sa mga korap na (Many are asking, are we going back to investigating the pastillas scam when we are in the middle of a pandemic? But shouldn’t we consider that maybe the reason why COVID-19 entered into the Philippines is because of these corrupt) immigration officers?” she asked.
Veteran columnist Ramon Tulfo had earlier pointed to former justice secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II as one of the protectors of the syndicate operating inside the BI.
Aguirre, who appeared at the Senate hearing for the first time on Tuesday, refuted the allegations and insisted that the BI itself should address the problem.