‘Pastillas’ scheme top gun appointed by former justice secretary Aguirre – Morente

The Bureau of Immigration (BI) official that installed frontliners to the "pastillas" operation was appointed by former justice secretary Vitaliano Aguirre, according to BI Commissioner Jaime Morente.

Whistleblower and immigration officer Allison Chiong reported that the official in question Marc Red Mariñas, who was former deputy commissioner, installed 3 travel central enforcement unit (TCEU) heads that operated the pastillas modus during his time as port operations chief.

The pastillas operation involves Chinese workers of  Philippine Offshore Gaming Operators (POGO) bribing immigration officials to gain seamless entry into the country. The illegal operation was tackled in a Senate hearing Thursday, February 20 after Chiong decided to come forward from anonymity. (READ: 'Magkano at hanggang kanino?': Hontiveros reveals bribery in entry of POGO workers)

Mariñas left the BI in 2018 to run for mayor of Muntinlupa during the 2019 elections, but lost. He was a career BI employee and became the bureau’s Ports Operation Division on July 2016.

He was replaced by Grifton Medina in the port operations division, who claimed he knew nothing about the pastillas operation. In the previous hearing on Monday, February 17, he said it was his first time hearing about it. (LOOK: How syndicates, airport officials split P10,000 bribe from POGO workers)

Syndicates

Chiong said that Mariñas appointed Glen Comia, Bien Guevarra, and Den Binsol, who were the TCEU heads of Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) terminals 1, 2, and 3 respectively. Comia, Guevarra, and Binsol have been reassigned to the Anti-Terrorism Group (ATG). 

To the best of my knowledge, tao niya kasi. Siya 'yung nag install diyan and they report to him (They’re his people. He installed them and they report to him),” said Chiong.

Chiong said NAIA Terminal 1 has the highest influx of flights from China, and therefore Comia was allegedly the “biggest supplier” or facilitator for Chinese passengers. 

A Viber group was created to coordinate pastillas. Once it went under scrutiny from the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI), it was deleted. Chiong said a new Viber group was created, and flow of operations changed.

Chiong claimed syndicate groups worked with travel agencies in China, and that they would often compete against each other. He alleged Comia was also the main conduit of Chinese travel agencies that were involved in the facilitation of names on the list. Binsol and Guevarra reportedly also did the same for the flights from China they handled.

In a video that Chiong submitted to the Senate showing the daily process of pastillas, Chinese are supposedly led to TCEU holding areas where the officer on shift checks if they are on the masterlist of expected passengers, or “VIPs.”

'Nagpapayaman lang'

Chiong said that the ATG area became the “tambayan (lounge)” of the 3 former TCEU heads.

Nasa BI lang naman 'to para magpayaman ‘eh… ‘Yun lang talaga nararamdaman ko eh, kami naman nasa mga frontlines, nagtatrabaho nang araw-araw. Tapos sila,  kapag wala nang kinikita na ganiyan, magpapahinga lang,” said Chiong.

(They were just in the BI to enrich themselves... That's just what I felt. We at the frontlines worked every day. In their case when no money was coming their way, they just rest.)

Even with Mariñas gone, Chiong said that he still wielded influence. 

"'Yung mga matatagal nang empleyado diyan, sila na talaga yung nagkokontrol ng ahensya. Tapos takot lahat sa kanila, kasi pulitika 'yan eh," he said. 

(The long-time employees in the BI have control over the agency. And everyone is scared of them, because that's politics.)

Senator Risa Hontiveros said that the Senate will subpoena "those who profited millions" including Mariñas for the next hearing.

Coinciding with the hearing, President Rodrigo Duterte fired “all officials and employees” of the BI that were involved in pastillas.

On Tuesday, February 18, the BI relieved from duty the immigration and TCEU heads of NAIA terminals. It said it was investigating the bribery allegations. – Rappler.com

Michelle Abad

Michelle Abad is a researcher-writer at Rappler. Possessing the heart and soul of a feminist, she is working on specializing in women's issues in Newsbreak, Rappler's investigative arm.

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