MANILA, Philippines – A whistleblower on Thursday, February 20, said that majority of immigration officers are already part of the "pastillas scheme" or the modus in airports allowing Chinese workers of Philippine Offshore Gaming Operators (POGO) to enter the country seamlessly.
At the marathon hearings on POGO operations, Immigration Officer Allison Chiong said that he had personally witnessed the scheme which started when there was a "dramatic increase" in Chinese entering the Philippines sometime around 2017.
"Immigration officers received, through a group chat in the Viber application, a list of names of Chinese nationals who were allowed entry into the Philippines without going through the usual immigration process," said Chiong, who has been in his post since 2012.
How the scheme happens: Chiong said that cooperating immigration officers in Ninoy Aquino International Airport Terminal 1 would receive around P20,000 weekly, while those in Terminal 3 receive around P8,000 every week.
"These Chinese nationals were no longer required to undergo screening, they were simply let inside the Philippines without question or investigation," Chiong said.
Asked how many BI officers were part of the scheme, Chiong said: "Mga 10% na lang hindi kasama sa modus" (Around 10% are not part of the modus). (LOOK: How syndicates, airport officials split P10,000 bribe from POGO workers)
Chiong explained that many employees agreed to be part of the scheme out of fear of what would happen to them if they refused.
"'Yung mga matatagal na empleyado diyan sila na ang nagkocontrol diyan. Siyempre maraming takot lahat sa kanila kasi pulitika 'yan eh. 'Pano na 'yung career ko? Mapag-iinitan ba ko? Itatapon ba ko sa Mindanao?'," Chiong said.
(Of course those who have been long employed are controlling the scheme. Of course, everyone is afraid of them because that's politics. 'What will happen to my career? Will I be picked on? Will I be transferred to Mindanao?')
Senator Imee Marcos raised whether there were other "very, very important person" (VVIP) allowed to enter the Philippines seamlessly.
"Yes, that's a special arranagement. Blacklisted persons are included. They can freely enter," Chiong said in a mix of English and Filipino.
The immigration officer said that the bribed range from P50,000 to P200,000, and if they were high-profile personalities, it could be millions.
Did it ever stop? Chiong said that the scheme is suspended now because the Philippines barred the entry of Chinese nationals into the country, due to the novel coronavirus.
But before that, BI officers part of the "pastillas scheme" had to change their strategy because the agency came under the scrutiny of the National Bureau of Investigation over the influx of Chinese workers in the country.
Chiong explained that at one point, immigration officers were asked to bring the Chinese nationals to the holding area of the Travel Control Enforcement Unit in NAIA to check whether the person is part of the list.
But this caused inconvenience, Chiong said, so they switched back to sending the names on their viber group.
"Palamig muna, then 'pag nawala 'tong issue, balik uli. Ganyan naman 'yan eh. Ganyan ang style. (We let the issue pass, then we return. That's how it is. That's the style)," Chiong described their operations.
Go after the 'big fish': Chiong said that he came forward so that his colleagues at the BI would "no longer be enslaved" with the corrupt system, even if that meant his place at the BI has already been compromised.
"Whether or not they were aware of it, they are also victims. And I want them to be free from this system," Chiong said of his co-immigration officers.
"May karapatan ang mamayaan na malaman ng sambayanang Pilipino kung anong nangyayari sa ahensya na 'to especially borders po natin ang dapat bantayan. Feeling ko invasion 'to," he added.
(Filipino citizens have the right to know what happens in this agency, especially that our borders need to be monitored. I feel like this is an invasion.)
Senator Risa Hontiveros in her closing statement said that the issue is beyond frontline employees.
"Sobrang garapalan na ang pastillas scheme (Pastillas scheme speaks of greed). I want to emphasize: This is bigger than the frontline employees," Hontiveros said.
"We need to protect the innocent, ensure that our borders are protected, go after the big fish, create systemic change inside the Bureau of Immigration," she added.
On Thursday, Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo said that President Rodrigo Duterte has sacked "all officials and employees" of the BI because of the bribery scheme.
The sacked employees "will most likely face cases," according to Panelo. – Rappler.com