Bureau of Immigration

Contrary to Duterte’s claim at SONA, execs in pastillas scam probe back in BI

Lian Buan
Contrary to Duterte’s claim at SONA, execs in pastillas scam probe back in BI

PASTILLAS SCAM. President Rodrigo Duterte summons Immigration officials implicated in the pastilas scam on November 9, 2020.

PRESIDENTIAL PHOTO

President Duterte has claimed that he had 'fired' these officials but Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra says they 'have returned to the main office,' mostly without assignments pending their cases

Officials who were linked to the so-called “pastillas” scam are all back at the Bureau of Immigration (BI), contrary to the claim of President Rodrigo Duterte in his final State of the Nation Address (SONA) that he had kicked them out from government service.

No less than Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra, who heads the agency that oversees the BI, confirmed this.

“These BI personnel have returned to the main office but most of them have not been given assignments while their cases remain pending,” said Guevarra.

The Office of the Ombudsman imposed a six-month preventive suspension on as many as 86 BI personnel and executives in October 2020. The pastillas scam, which Senator Risa Hontiveros had exposed, involves allegedly extorting foreigners, mostly Chinese, to enter and work in the Philippines without proper permits.

“The six-month preventive suspension of BI personnel allegedly involved in the so-called ‘pastillas’ scheme has already lapsed,” Guevarra said.

BI Spokesperson Dana Sandoval said that of the 86 who were under preventive suspension, 84 have returned. The two others were the whistleblower and a retiree, said Sandoval.

Guevarra said the Ombudsman’s preliminary investigation as well as the DOJ’s own administrative proceedings are ongoing.

During the portion of his SONA where Duterte riled against corruption, the President said of those involved in the pastillas scam: “There were 43 personnel involved. I fired them all. Talagang pinaalis ko sa gobyerno (I kicked them out of government).”

Guevarra said this was not the case. “No, they were not fired or dismissed, precisely because the investigation of their cases is still going on,” he said.

The corruption scandal was termed as the pastillas scam since the bribe money was allegedly rolled up in like the Philippine sweet. In November, Malacañang even pulled a gimmicky event – concerned immigration were called to the Palace where money wrapped like pastillas was left on each of their chairs.

Duterte boasted that he wanted to make the officials eat the pastillas-wrapped money. He said in his SONA that Guevarra stopped him from doing so. Instead, Duterte said: “That is the best way of… Then, you fire them.”

Proceedings

It turned out Guevarra didn’t, or at least not yet.

While the Office of the Ombudsman is usually the one with the power to dismiss government officials from the service, by immigration law, the DOJ can fire them too.

“Under existing Civil Service Commission (CSC) rules, dismissal from service may be imposed for dishonesty and other major administrative offenses. Both the Ombudsman and the DOJ may exercise that disciplinary power after giving the respondents their day in court,” said Guevarra.

There are two complaints pending before the Office of the Ombudsman, one including Marc Red Mariñas, a former ports division chief, and tagged in the Senate hearings as the alleged mastermind.

When Mariñas was removed as ports chief, he was replaced by Grifton Medina. But Medina was also later implicated, and was one of the higher-ranking officials suspended during the heat of the investigation in 2020.

Medina is still serving a managerial role at the BI – he is the chief of personnel, according to the bureau’s hiring callout on July 20.

“Grifton Medina has not been reinstated at the ports operations division,” said Guevarra.

“It’s up to the BI commissioners if they wish to give these subject personnel any new assignments,” the justice secretary added.

The Ombudsman’s administrative and criminal proceedings can be done simultaneously. – 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.