Alleged pastillas scam 'mastermind' sued for graft in 2nd NBI complaint

Marc Red Mariñas, the Bureau of Immigration's former port operations chief and tagged in Senate hearings as as the alleged mastermind of the so-called pastillas scam, was included in a second complaint for graft over the anomaly.

The National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) filed a complaint dated November 3 before the Office of the Ombudsman, against 86 officials including Mariñas for violations of the anti-graft law.

"Premises considered, it is respectfully prayed that appropriate charges be filed against the following leaders and members of the Pastillas group," the NBI said in its complaint, with Mariñas topping the list.

Mariñas was not included in the first complaint, but the 2nd complaint cited recent hearings in the Senate where a whistleblower pointed to him as the "mastermind."

Mariñas has also appeared before the Senate to deny the allegations. Mariñas said he met with the embattled lower-ranked personnel just by virtue of being his former subordinates, but whistleblower Jeffrey Dale Ignacio said the meeting was about trying to get them out of prosecution.

The pastillas scam is an alleged modus of extorting foreigners, mostly Chinese nationals, to get easy or illegal entries into the Philippines. The term "pastillas" was derived from the alleged manner in which erring officials wrapped extorted money in the form of pastillas, a Filipino pastry.

Ignacio: From respondent to witness

The NBI told the Office of the Ombudsman that one of the officials it sued in the first complaint, Immigration Officer (IO) Jeffrey Dale Ignacio, will now be used as a government witness.

"It is also prayed of this Honorable Office to grant that Subject IO Jeffrey Dale Ignacio be discharged to be utilized as a state witness based on his Sworn Statements and other supporting evidence submitted during the investigation of the instant case," said the complaint.

Ignacio first approached the NBI to expose that its legal assistance chief had been trying to extort the officials earlier sued for P100,000 per person to try to drop them from the first complaint. Ignacio then appeared at the Senate to say the first batch of the complaint lacked the "big fish."

"IO Ignacio's knowledge about the hierarchy of their group corroborated the previous expose of IO Chiong of the illegal operations of the Pastillas group known as the Pastillas Scheme," said the complaint, referring to Allison Chiong, an immigration officer who came out as a witness earlier this year.

The term "state witness" is a legal one; for one to be a state witness, one must have already been charged before a court and discharged by that same court upon request from the prosecution.

Ignacio's utilization as witness can be described as a government witness, similar to how the Department of Justice (DOJ) utilized drug convicts as government witnesses against Senator Leila De Lima.

"We welcome this development from the National Bureau of Investigation, which is in part a result of our request to expand the investigation to be able to ensure that all those who are part of this alleged scheme are brought to justice," Bureau of Immigration (BI) Spokesperson Dana Sandoval said on Thursday.

One-strike policy

Sandoval said the BI will immediately relieve all 86 officials and personnel in the second complaint.

"If there are names included there that haven't been relieved yet then we will immediately implement their relief," said Sandoval.

BI Commissioner Jaime Morente also said on Thursday that they will now follow a one-strike policy – meaning as soon as an investigation has been opened, the person will immediately be relieved.

They will not be fired, but "will be assigned to our administrative division or back offices, and will not be given sensitive posts, pending the resolution of their case," said Sandoval.

They will also not be entitled to augmentation of pay, Sandoval added.

If they are subsequently cleared from the cases, Sandoval said the BI will follow the recommendation of whoever investigated it, whether the Office of the Ombudsman or the DOJ.

The NBI's 2nd complaint requested the Ombudsman for the 86 officials to "be immediately placed under preventive suspension."

Ombudsman Samuel Martires has earlier placed 45 immigration officials tagged in the scam on preventive suspension. – Rappler.com

Lian Buan

Lian Buan covers justice and corruption for Rappler. She is interested in decisions, pleadings, audits, contracts, and other documents that establish a trail. If you have leads, email lian.buan@rappler.com or tweet @lianbuan.

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