Senate panel to summon crafters of VUA order

Published October 26, 2020, 1:53 PM

by Hannah Torregoza 

Sen. Risa Hontiveros said Monday the Senate Committee on Women, Children, and Gender Equality will summon the crafters of Department of Justice Department Order 41 which extended visa-upon-arrival (VUA) privileges to Chinese nationals to easily enter the Philippines.

Sen. Risa Hontiveros(Senate of the Philippines / MANILA BULLETIN)
Sen. Risa Hontiveros(Senate of the Philippines / MANILA BULLETIN)

Hontiveros said this can help establish who were the government officials and other persons involved in the VUA system which apparently was exploited to facilitate the trafficking of women for prostitution in the Philippines.

“The NBI (National Bureau of Investigation) now says it is not just investigation inbound human trafficking, but outbound human trafficking as well. So where do we go from here?” Hontiveros said in an interview when asked about the “pastillas” scam on CNN Philippines.

“Yung mga arkitekto ng Department Order 41 ang gusto naming ipatawag sa susunod na hearing kasi iyan ang order na siyang naging legal basis ng (We want to summon the architects of DO 41 in the next hearing because that order was the legal basis for the) VUA, which apparently has given a whole order or system to this very cynical business model at the BI (Bureau of Immigration),” she added.

Hontiveros had earlier scored former Department of Justice (DOJ) Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II for issuing DO 41 in 2017, which she said eventually “opened the floodgates to very lax oversight on the VUA and led to an institutionalization of that one-stop shop of corruption” in the BI.

Aguirre had earlier defended the issuance of the order, saying it was former Tourism Secretary Wanda Teo who kept on insisting on the need for a VUA system to attract more tourists.

“Apparently, that became the document of choice for foreign women trafficked into the Philippines for prostitution in Chinese-only employees of POGO (Philippine Offshore Gaming Operators) prostitution rings here,” Hontiveros lamented.

Given this development, the senator said Aguirre is “not yet off the hook” as he wasn’t able to give a satisfactory answer regarding questions on the VUA system during the last hearing.

“And as it unfolded, the issuance of VUA for Chinese nationals was so lax that eventually it seems that 160,000 VUA holders paid P12,000 (each),” she said.

Hontiveros had earlier said that the alleged masterminds of the so-called pastillas scheme in the BI have amassed an estimated P40 billion through the VUA system and other corruption schemes in the agency.

The BI suspended the VUA scheme in January after allegations of abuse and corruption surfaced. Senators, however, called for its outright cancellation following the testimony of two immigration officials regarding the bribery scheme.