Court of Appeals

CA affirms dismissal of 3 immigration officers tagged in ‘pastillas’ scam

Jairo Bolledo

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CA affirms dismissal of 3 immigration officers tagged in ‘pastillas’ scam

IMMIGRATION. This file photo shows immigration desks at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport Terminal 2 Departure area on April 9, 2023.

Bureau of Immigration

The same decision dismisses the case against one immigration officer for lack of substantial evidence

MANILA, Philippines – The Court of Appeals (CA) upheld the dismissal of three Bureau of Immigration (BI) officers tagged in the controversial “pastillas” scam.

In a decision dated April 12, the CA’s Special Sixth Division affirmed the dismissal of BI officers Aurelo Lucero III, George Bituin, and Salahudin Hadjinoor. Associate Justice Maximo de Leon penned the decision, with concurrence from Associate Justices Perpetua Susana Atal-Paño and Bonifacio Pascua.

The same decision granted the petition of review filed by Frances Meek Flores after the CA dismissed the grave misconduct and conduct prejudicial to the best interest of the service case against her for lack of substantial evidence. The appellate court ordered her reinstatement from her former position and ruled that she is “entitled to backwages from the time of her unlawful dismissal on 21 March 2022, at the rate last received by her without qualification and deduction, until the date of her actual reinstatement.”

In early 2020, investigations revealed that Chinese employees of Philippine offshore gaming operators allegedly seamlessly entered the country for a fee of P10,000 per person. The scheme was dubbed pastillas because the alleged payouts were rolled in paper. Later, the payouts became sophisticated and used envelopes and free lunch allegedly provided by the Chinese.

The Office of the Ombudsman, in a decision on March 21, 2022, found the four administratively liable for grave misconduct and conduct prejudicial to the best interest of the service. Meanwhile, the Ombudsman junked the gross or serious dishonesty and gross neglect of duty against the immigration officers.

The four filed motions for reconsideration, but the Ombudsman junked the petitions on August 31, 2022. This pushed the petitioners to seek the CA’s intervention.

In explaining its ruling, the CA said the Ombudsman erred when it held Flores administratively liable, and said “there is no substantial evidence which shows that Flores is either a member of the pastillas group.”

The appellate court noted that the Ombudsman found Flores guilty because she was the on-duty immigration officer who processed the entry of foreigners who later found to be part of the pastillas’ VIP list.

“It is clear that Flores’ grant of entry to these four (4) foreign nationals were warranted as she had no reason to prevent their entry in this country,” the CA said in its ruling.

As to the three other BI officers, the CA said authorities were able to prove the allegations against Lucero, Bituin, and Hadjinoor with substantial evidence.

“As the Office of the Ombudsman found Lucero, Bituin and Hadjinoor to be part of the pastillas group based on the overwhelming substantial evidence against them, We see no reason to depart from the same,” the appellate court added. –

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Jairo Bolledo

Jairo Bolledo is a multimedia reporter at Rappler covering justice, police, and crime.