MANILA, Philippines – The Office of the Ombudsman charged 43 people, including immigration officials, with graft in connection with the so-called “pastillas scam” which involved extorting money from Chinese nationals in exchange for Philippine visas.
Ombudsman Samuel Martires approved the charges which were filed before the anti-graft court Sandiganbayan on Monday, June 6, copies of which was released to media on Tuesday, June 7.
The charge sheet includes former immigration ports division chief Marc Red Mariñas, who was tagged in the Senate hearings as the alleged mastermind; and the one who replaced him, Grifton Medina.
Medina was suspended during the heat of the investigation in 2020, but was back in the bureau a year later as chief of personnel, contrary to the claim of President Rodrigo Duterte that he had kicked out from government all the officials involved in the scam.
Bail was set at P90,000 each.
According to the charge sheet, Chinese suppliers “acted as conduit between travel agencies and immigration officers manning counters at NAIA Terminals 1 and 2.”
Through that scheme, a list of Chinese passengers to be given visas to enter the Philippines are cascaded through Viber groups.
“The bosses or Chinese supplier receive the regular pay-outs from travel agencies usually wrapped like the local candy pastillas, and then caused the distribution of the shares to the pastillas to the different members of the scheme,” said the charge sheet.
Each passenger paid P10,000, said the charge sheet. The Ombudsman case has evidence on 143 passengers allowed to enter to the country through the modus, pegging the extorted amount at P1.43 million.
DOJ fires 18
The Department of Justice (DOJ) fired on Friday, June 10, 18 officials of the bureau over the same scam, saying they were found guilty of administrative offenses grave misconduct, gross neglect of duty, and conduct prejudicial to the best interest of the service.
But the DOJ’s dismissal from service order did not include Mariñas and Medina.
DOJ Assistant Secretary Neal Bainto said both were not included in the administrative investigation by an internal-fact finding team.
An administrative guilt results in either suspension or firing.
“Mariñas had already resigned much earlier, that’s why he was not included,” said Bainto.
Bainto added, “As for Medina, he was eventually included in a separate administrative complaint filed by the National Bureau of Investigation with the Ombudsman.”
Medina was fired by the Office of the Ombudsman in the administrative aspect of their investigation. An administrative sanction always comes with a criminal finding of probable cause.
The Ombudsman panel dismissed Medina and 44 others from service and imposed a fine equivalent to one year salary, according to an order approved by Ombudsman Samuel Marites on May 27, but released only to media on Sunday, June 12.
The Bureau of Immigration was a pain point for the Duterte administration. The only plunder conviction under his government, and one of the few convictions in the history of the plunder law, involved immigration officials in the extortion try on business tycoon Jack Lam. – Rappler.com