MANILA, Philippines – President Rodrigo Duterte has sacked "all officials and employees" of the Bureau of Immigration (BI) allegedly involved in a bribery scheme that allowed the illegal entry of Chinese workers of Philippine offshore gaming operators (POGOs), Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo said on Thursday afternoon, February 20.
"The President considers this anomaly, which some define as the pastillas scheme, as a grave form of corruption which cannot be countenanced by the government," said an official statement read out by Panelo to reporters in Malacañang.
"As we have repeatedly stressed, there are no sacred cows in this administration. Any official or employee who commits any wrong in the performance of their respective duties shall be meted out with the punishment that they deserve and in accordance with our penal laws," the statement went on.
"The present situation in the Bureau of Immigration, as well as how it is being run by Commissioner Jaime Morente, will be taken up in the next Cabinet meeting," Panelo's statement concluded.
Pressed by reporters for further details such as the number and identities of the sacked officials, Panelo said the President had only instructed him to announce their relief from duty, and that he knew nothing more about them.
In a previous briefing earlier this week, Panelo said Duterte would only act on the allegations if an official case is brought to the government.
"He received reports and he found prima facie (based on first glance) probable cause," Panelo replied when asked what prompted Duterte to change his stance.
The sacked BI officials and employees "will most likely face cases," Panelo added.
On Monday, February 17, opposition senator Risa Hontiveros revealed the so-called pastillas bribery scheme in a Senate investigation of POGO links to sex trafficking and prostitution rings.
Based on evidence Hontiveros gathered, immigration officials had received P10,000 in bribes for every illegal Chinese migrant they let slip into airports. The payouts were initially rolled in sheets of paper – like pastillas or candy rolls – but have since become more sophisticated.
There have been some 1.8 million Chinese arrivals in the Philippines in recent years. By her calculations, Hontiveros said the bribery scheme must have already earned its perpetrators at least P10 billion.
On Tuesday, February 18, the BI relieved from duty the immigration heads of terminals of the Ninoy Aquino International Airport in Pasay City, and the head of its Travel Control and Enforcement Unit. It said it was investigating the bribery allegations. – Rappler.com
JC Gotinga often reports about the West Philippine Sea, the communist insurgency, and terrorism as he covers national defense and security for Rappler. He enjoys telling stories about his hometown, Pasig City. JC has worked with Al Jazeera, CNN Philippines, News5, and CBN Asia.