Immigration officers linked to trafficking overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) to Syria – among them one of the alleged masterminds of the “pastillas” bribery scheme in the Bureau of Immigration (BI) – have been relieved from their posts.
This was disclosed by Immigration Commissioner Jaime Morente to the Senate committee on women, children, family relations, and gender equality as it resumed its hearing on human trafficking practices within the BI on Tuesday, May 4.
It was Senator Imee Marcos who asked Morente for an update on the status of the investigation on immigration officers Mark Darwin Talha, Nerissa Pineda, John Michael Angeles, and Ervin Ortañez.
Morente earlier confirmed these 4 immigration officers stamped the passports of at least 4 OFWs who were trafficked to war-torn Syria, where the victims were abused by their employers.
“Actually, these people including the others were already relieved from their posts. That's the action I can take,” Morente said.
Angeles is among the 86 BI officers who were sued by the National Bureau of Investigation in November 2020 for violating the anti-graft law due to their involvement in the “pastillas” scam.
Meanwhile, Ortañez is the son of Erwin Ortañez, who was the overall Travel Control Enforcement Unit head when Marc Red Mariñas – allegedly the “godfather” of the “pastillas” scheme – was still the port operations chief.
According to Morente, the BI’s fact-finding committee investigated a total of 43 immigration officers linked to human trafficking, among them Talha, Pineda, Angeles, and Ortañez.
The fact-finding panel recommended that the Department of Justice (DOJ) file complaints against the immigration officers for several violations, ranging from grave misconduct to gross neglect of duty.
Marcos welcomed the decision to sack the immigration officers, but she hopes they would also be preventively suspended from holding public office.
“Yes, I think they should be immediately suspended because when women who are very scared have already named them, then we should take action as soon as possible,” the senator said in Filipino.
Morente, however, said he no longer has the authority to suspend the immigration officers, since this power rests only with the secretary of the DOJ.
Senator Risa Hontiveros, chair of the Senate committee, then asked Justice Assistant Secretary Nicholas Felix Ty if the department already has a response to the findings of the BI.
Ty said that while he has personally not read the BI’s report, the DOJ usually follows the recommendations of the bureau regarding punishment for officials under investigation.
“More often than not, the department adopts the recommendations of the BI on these matters,” said Ty.
Tuesday's hearing showed that several BI officers are also allegedly involved in trafficking young Muslim girls into Syria, who were given fake passports and were made to believe they were going to work somewhere else.