Immigration officials 'deny to death' participation in pastillas scheme
MANILA, Philippines – Former and current immigration officers deny all allegations linked to the moneymaking scheme at the Bureau of Immigration (BI), but Senator Risa Hontiveros found it hard to believe them.
On Monday, March 2, all immigration officials invited for the Senate hearing on Monday denied knowledge of the "pastillas scheme" bared by immigration official Allison Chiong – the modus in airports allowing Chinese workers of Philippine Offshore Gaming Operators (POGO) to enter the country without questions.
These were the following:
- Resigned deputy commissioner Marc Red Mariñas
- Security guard Fidel Mendoza who served as Mariñas' "staff assistant"
- Former Travel Central Enforcement Unit heads in Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) terminals:
- Erwin Ortañez - Former TCEU head
- Glenn Comia - TCEU NAIA Terminal 1 head
- Beien Guevarra - TCEU NAIA Terminal 2 head
- Den Binsol - TCEU NAIA Terminal 3 head
- Alleged "supplier" of lists of Chinese workers' names not to be questioned:
- Rodolfo Magbuhos
- Deon Albao
- Anthony Lopez
- Francis Robles
- Immigration officers
- Ralph Garcia - the supposed administrator of the Viber group for the pastillas scheme
- Gabriel Estacio
- Chevy Chase Naniong
- Phol Villanueva
A video taken by Chiong was shown to the panel which depicted how Chinese workers who were not on the "list" were being counterchecked with Naniong.
BI officer Chevy Chase Naniong, who was part of the TCEU (the man on the video): Yung listahan na sinasabi ni Officer Chiong hindi ko po exactly maaalala, iba-iba ang listahan na hawak ang TCEU. May tour groups, alert list from iba't ibang inter-agency. pic.twitter.com/gc7lZFS0WY— Aika Rey (@reyaika) March 2, 2020
Despite this, the marathon hearings on sex trafficking and the pastillas scheme was the "first time" Naniong and the others heard of the moneymaking modus in BI, they claimed. (LOOK: How syndicates, airport officials split P10,000 bribe from POGO workers)
Mariñas, who was then-acting port operations division chief, said Chiong's video was taken "with malice (and) with the intention of making it appear that VIP treatment is being accorded to Chinese nationals."
"Ito pong video na ito ay (This video was) produced, and directed, and starring role na rin po si (by) Mr Chiong, where an ordinary innocent standard procedure in the course of primary inspection of arriving passengers was twisted to suit his intention of passing it to the committee as evidence of corruption," Mariñas said.
During the hearing, Senator Risa Hontiveros repeatedly asked the alleged "suppliers," as well as the immigration officers who are alleged admins of the Viber group for the pastillas scheme, about their supposed participation in the modus.
Hontiveros said that in one of the screenshots, there was a certain "RG Garcia Ralph" who was the administrator of the Viber group for the modus. In previous hearings, messages from "RG Garcia Ralph" appeared in Viber groups "T1 GY Ballers 2" and T1 GY Doboro (IO Counters).
The Akbayan senator repeatedly asked immigration officer Ralph Garcia if he was the person behind it.
"Your Honor, hindi po ako 'yun. (I am not behind it)," said Garcia, who also repeatedly denied the accusation.
Chiong said, however, that it was Garcia behind that codename. Chiong said that Garcia even changed his codename to "Tupac," in reference to the American Rapper Tupac Shakur, when the exposé came out on Mon Tulfo's column in Manila Times in April 2019.
Senator Ronald dela Rosa, who appeared to be losing his patience with the repeated denial, said that Garcia and other immigration officers who continuously "lied" during the hearing may be detained at the Senate, just like the Bureau of Corrections officers who lied before the Senate justice panel in 2019.
"Please do not force me to move you for contempt. Madedetain kayo sa Senado 'pag hindi pa kayo magsabi ng totoo. Puro kayo denial. Deny ng deny," Dela Rosa said.
(You will be detained at the Senate if you don't tell the truth. You keep on denying.)
After a minute's suspension, Hontiveros said they will give them another chance during the next hearing. But if the Philippine National Police Anti-Cybercrime Unit confirms their participation and they continue to lie, the Senate will detain them for contempt.
"Sino pa naman ang makukumbinsi na ang 'yung former immigration officers and personnel ay lahat sila 100% walang alam? 'Yung pinaka-unbelievable 'yung andyan na 'yung chat groups, ang mga pangalan ng mga tao, kahit pa 3 or 4 na beses na tanungin kung sila 'yun, deny to death sila," Hontiveros said in a media interview.
(Who will be convinced that the former immigration officers and personnel have 100% no idea about the scheme? The most unbelievable here is that there are the chat groups, the name of the people, and even if you ask them 3 or 4 times, they deny to death.) – Rappler.com