Senate of the Philippines

Draft Senate panel report seeks criminal cases vs 26 ‘pastillas’ scam masterminds

Mara Cepeda
Draft Senate panel report seeks criminal cases vs 26 ‘pastillas’ scam masterminds

'PASTILLAS' SCAM ARCHITECTS. Immigration officials allegedly involved in the “pastillas” scheme attend a Senate hearing on March 2, 2020.

Angie de Silva/Rappler

(1st UPDATE) The Senate panel also says the POGO industry 'exacerbated' prostitution and trafficking in the Philippines

MANILA, Philippines – A Senate committee that investigated sex trafficking and prostitution rings linked to the Philippine offshore gaming operators (POGO) industry is set to recommend the filing of criminal cases against 26 officials under President Rodrigo Duterte’s government who were responsible for these nefarious practices. 

On Wednesday, January 26, Senator Risa Hontiveros – chairperson of the Senate panel on women, children, family relations, and gender equality – gave reporters a copy of her committee report’s executive summary on the so-called “pastillas” bribery scheme.

The committee report was officially filed on Thursday, January 27, and was signed by all 11 members and ex-officio members of the panel.

Apart from Hontiveros, the other signatories include:

  • Nancy Binay
  • Pia Cayetano
  • Leila de Lima
  • Ronald dela Rosa
  • Win Gatchalian
  • Imee Marcos
  • Grace Poe
  • Ralph Recto, Senate President Pro-Tempore (ex-officio)
  • Juan Miguel Zubiri, Senate Majority Leader (ex-officio)
  • Frank Drilon, Senate Minority Leader (ex-officio)

Hontiveros herself had coined the term for the systematic practice of several Bureau of Immigration (BI) employees to facilitate the illegal entry into the Philippines of Chinese nationals working for POGOs. Payouts are rolled in bond paper, similar to how the Filipino milk candy “pastillas” is traditionally wrapped.

The Senate panel said the bulk of the estimated P40-billion worth of kickbacks were earned by former port operations chief Marc Red Mariñas, the so-called “godfather” of the “pastillas” scam, and his father Maynardo Mariñas, former head of the BI Special Operations Communications Unit. 

The committee report said the Mariñases and several other BI officials and employees should face criminal cases for violating the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act, the Anti-Trafficking in Persons Act of 2003, the plunder law, and the Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Public Officials and Employees.

The others named in the Senate report are: 

  • Erwin Ortañez
  • Bienlado Guevara
  • Arlan Mendoza
  • Fidel Mendoza
  • Jonathan Orozco
  • Grifton Medina
  • Gabriel Estacio
  • Ralph Ryan Garcia
  • Phol Villanueva
  • Abdul Fahad Calaca
  • Danilo Deudor
  • Marc Macababad
  • Cherie Pie Ricolcol
  • Abdulhafez Hadjibasher
  • Amboy Lucero
  • George Bituin
  • Salahudin Pacalda Hadjinoor
  • Glenn Ford Comia
  • Deon Carlo Albao
  • Rodolfo Magbuhos
  • Anthony Lopez
  • Danieve Binsol
  • Dennis Robles
  • Bradford Allen So
  • German Robin

The Senate committee also wants cases filed against the Mariñases, Binsol, Mallari, Medina, and Mendoza for failure to file their Statement of Assets, Liabilities, and Net Worth, which is mandatory for government officials. 

The panel said because of their alleged violations, the named government officials must be permanently disqualified from holding appointive or elective office.

Senators also recommended further investigation on former justice secretary Vitaliano Aguirre for his appointment of Red Mariñas and his issuance of Department No. 41, which gave the father and son tandem wide discretion over the approval of Visa Upon Arrivals. 

The National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) has already sued 86 officials for graft for their involvement in the “pastillas”scam.

In his final State of the Nation Address in 2021, Duterte falsely claimed all immigration officials embroiled in the scandal have been supposedly been sacked, but this was debunked by Justice Secartary Menardo Gueverra, who heads the agency overseeing the BI.

He said the these BI officials have returned to the main office, but most of them have not been given assignments while their cases remain pending.

Draft Senate panel report seeks criminal cases vs 26 ‘pastillas’ scam masterminds
POGOs worsened prostitution, trafficking in PH

The two-year Senate probe found a “clear link” between the rise of the POGO industry and the spike in cases of prostitution and human trafficking in the Philippines.

NBI raids uncovered prostitution dens catering exclusively to Chinese clients, a majority of whom were POGO workers.

“The POGO industry has exacerbated local prostitution and human trafficking. It also encouraged inbound prostitution, with the creation of ‘Chinese-only’ prostitution that made the country a destination for foreign trafficked women on a scale not seen before,” read the Senate panel’s draft report. 

The panel also said post-raid protocols involving prostitution rings should be established to address policy gaps that allow rescued trafficking victims to be reintegrated back into the sex industry. 

Senators earlier uncovered that several Bi officers involved in the pastillas scheme were also allegedly involved in trafficking overseas Filipino workers into war-torn Syria. The OFWs, who were later abused by their employers, were given fake passports and were made to believe they were going to work somewhere else. – Rappler.com

Mara Cepeda

Mara Cepeda specializes in stories about politics and local governance. She covers the Office of the Vice President, the Senate, and the Philippine opposition. She is a 2021 fellow of the Asia Journalism Fellowship and the Reham al-Farra Memorial Journalism Fellowship of the UN. Got tips? Email her at mara.cepeda@rappler.com or tweet @maracepeda.