Bureau of Immigration

NBI sues 19 immigration airport officers over illegal entry of POGO workers

Lian Buan

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NBI sues 19 immigration airport officers over illegal entry of POGO workers
They are sued for graft after found to have taken bribe money from Chinese nationals through travel agencies

The National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) filed graft complaints on Tuesday, September 1, against 19 officers of the Bureau of Immigration (BI) assigned at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA).

They were found to have taken bribe money from Chinese nationals – through travel agencies – allowing them illegal entry into the country.

One of the 19, Immigration Officer (IO) II Jeffrey Dale Ignacio will face – in the event of an indictment – an additional complaint of qualified trafficking, which is non-bailable.

The NBI described the modus: “Whichever method is used, the aim remains the same: to justify the unchecked entry of an appalling influx of foreign nationals, mostly Chinese Philippine Offshore Gaming Operators (POGO) workers, into our borders – even though they do not merit admission into the country – all for monetary consideration.

The NBI recently transmitted its 22-page complaint to the Office of the Ombudsman.

The NBI included a complaint for violation of Article 212 of the Revised Penal Code or corruption of public officials against Liya Wu, the owner of the Empire International Travel and Tours, which a whistleblower described as “the most popular and powerful travel agency in the Bureau of Immigration.”

The whistleblower, Immigration Officer Allison Chiong, also the witness in exhaustive Senate inquries, was not included in the complaint.

The NBI accepted all of Chiong’s accusations, backed by screenshots of a Viber group that ran the modus in NAIA. The NBI was also able to confirm that Chiong’s list of Chinese nationals processed by the group were actual people who are in the country now.

The 19 officers sued for graft are Ignacio; Port Operations Division (POD) Chief Grifton Medina; Travel Control and Enforcement Unit (TCEU) Deputy Terminal Head Deon Carlo Albao; POD chief of staff Fidel Mendoza; IO II Abdulhafez Dela Tonga Hadjibasher; IO II Gabriel Ernest Estacio; IO 1 Ralph Ryan Garcia; IO 1 Phol Villanueva; IO III Abdul Fahad Calaca; IO 1 Danilo Deudor; IO 1 Mark Macababad; IO III Aurelio Somera Lucero III; IO III George Bituin; IO III Salahudin Hadjinoor; IO II Chevy Chase Naniong; IO 1 Hamza Usudan Pacasum; IO II Manuel Brillante Sarmiento III; IO 1 Cherry Pie Payabyab Ricolcol; and Senior IO German Tegio Robin.

The 19 officers will face two counts of complaints under the anti-graft law: section 3(a), or inducing another officer to commit a violation, and section 3(j), or knowingly granting privilege to any person not qualified for such privilege.

In a statement on Wednesday, September 2, BI Acting Spokesperson Melvin Mabulac said: “BI welcomes the recommendation of the NBI to file cases against BI personnel and they be given opportunity to defend themselves in the proper forum.”

Qualified trafficking

Ignacio was sued for qualified trafficking, or section 6(d) of Republic Act 9208, because of the testimony of Taiwanese Yu Cian Lai, who said she was trafficked and exploited upon arrival in the country on October 2, 2019. It was Ignacio who processed Lai.

For that, the NBI said Ignacio violated section 5(e) of the anti-trafficking law, which prohibits assisting in the entry or exit of a person for the purpose of trafficking. This is a bailable offense. Since Ignacio is a public officer, the NBI applied section 6(d) which covers acts “committed by a public officer or employee” – a non-bailable offense.

The complaint said it was suing Ignacio under section 5(e) in relation to section 6(d).

Even though the NBI cited both sections for Ignacio, it also said that what he did was considered qualified trafficking, which falls under section 6(d).

Senator Risa Hontiveros, who led the Senate investigations, said she hopes the NBI could file more cases against more BI employees “as well as other private individuals like travel agency operators who are also involved in the scam.”

“There were people in the higher levels of the BI who were supposedly on the take and benefiting from this illegal enterprise,” Hontiveros said in a statement on Wednesday, September 2.

“Kung gusto natin matigil ang paglabag sa ating batas at ang pag-abuso sa ating kababaihan at kabataan, kailangan natin mahanap at makasuhan ang bawat padrino at backer na nakikinabang sa kalokohang ito,” the senator said.

(If we really want to stop this illegal act, and stop the exploitation of women and children, we need to file cases against the gang leaders and backers and all those who benefitted from this scam.) – Rappler.com

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Lian Buan

Lian Buan is a senior investigative reporter, and minder of Rappler's justice, human rights and crime cluster.