Hontiveros to NBI: pin down travel agency in new ‘pastillas scheme’

Published February 22, 2021, 1:43 PM

by Hannah Torregoza 

Senator Risa Hontiveros on Monday urged the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) to identify the travel agency involved in a “mutated” version of the so-called “pastillas” scheme where Chinese nationals allegedly pay P550,000 each for seamless entry into the country.

Sen. Risa Hontiveros
(Albert Calvelo / Senate PRIB / FILE PHOTO / MANILA BULLETIN)

“Akala ko COVID-19 lang ang nagmu-mutate, pati pastillas scam na rin pala (I thought COVID-19 is the only thing that mutates, even the ‘pastillas’ scam also mutates),” Hontiveros said in a statement.

“Dati pang kasabwat sa korapsyon sa Bureau of Immigration (BI) ang mga travel agencies sa ilegal na pagpapasok ng mga Chinese. May pandemya na, nagpapakasasa pa rin ang mga nansasamantala (Travel agencies have long been in cahoots in corruption with some Bureau of Immigration officials in facilitating the illegal entry of Chinese here. We’ve been battling the pandemic and yet there are still people who are taking advantage of it),” the senator lamented.

The NBI earlier arrested Vivian Lara, a liaison officer who was caught receiving P900,000 to process the papers of three Chinese nationals inside the office of BI prosecutor Arnulfo Maminta. Lara reportedly admitted that the Chinese nationals are clients of a travel agency.

Hontiveros lamented some Chinese citizens with a standing criminal record are able to enter the country with the help of the travel agency and corrupt BI officials.

“I’ve called for a BI overhaul before and this needs to happen now as it seems the new scam features the same cast of characters,” said the senator, who launched a Senate probe last year on the bribery scheme involving BI officials engaged in allowing the smooth entry of Chinese nationals involved in human trafficking and prostitution in the Philippines.

The Hontiveros-led Senate probe zeroed in on corrupt officials at the BI who receive P10,000 for every unchecked entry of a Chinese national. During the Senate probe, senators uncovered that the travel agencies involved in the scam offer to help Chinese who want to get their names off the BI’s blacklist for a price.

“This is a direct threat to our national security. We’ve already established that Chinese syndicates have exploited our women and children, among many other unspeakable crimes,” said Hontiveros, chair of the Senate women and children’s panel.

“Isa sa mga pasimuno ng pagpapasok sa kanila ay mga travel agencies na dati pa ay nagbebenta na ng fake passorts at iba pang pekeng government documents para sa mga Chinese, (These travel agencies, who have been involved in selling fake passports and fake government documents for Chinese nationals, are the perpetrators),” Hontiveros said.

Hontiveros said the government should permanently abolish the Visa Upon Arrival (VUA) system for Chinese nationals, which she believes is being used by syndicates to traffic women into the country.

She said Chinese visitors should enter the Philippines through channels monitored by the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA).