Duterte says he 'loves' immigration chief Morente amid POGO bribery mess

Does the President exempt Immigration Commissioner Jaime Morente, a former Davao police chief, from accountability for the bribery scheme that let illegal Chinese workers slip into the country?

JC Gotinga

Published: 11:54 PM February 20, 2020

Updated: 10:45 PM February 21, 2020

IMMIGRATION CHIEF. Bureau of Immigration Commissioner Jaime Morente in July 2016. File photo by Ben Nabong/Rappler

MANILA, Philippines – President Rodrigo Duterte on Thursday evening, February 20, expressed fondness for Bureau of Immigration (BI) Commissioner Jaime Morente, even as the Senate investigates a scandal involving immigration officers who allegedly took bribes to let illegal Chinese workers into the country.

This came hours after Malacañang announced that immigration officials and employees allegedly involved in the so-called pastillas bribery scheme were ordered sacked by Duterte.

"Kahapon, I terminated all kay Morente. Apparently si Morente – mahal ko 'yan kasi chief of police 'yan dito," Duterte said during graduation rites for new public safety officers at Davao City's Police Regional Training Center.

(Yesterday, I terminated all of Morente's [people]. Apparently, Morente – I love that guy because he used to be chief of police here.)

Morente used to be the Davao regional police chief. Davao City is Duterte's hometown, where he ruled either as mayor or vice mayor for 3 decades.

"Mabait 'yan. Hindi niya kaya – 'Limitado ka rin kasi ano...' (He's a good guy. He's unable to – 'You're also limited because...')," Duterte trailed off, apparently recalling a conversation he earlier had with Morente. 

"'Yung lahat sa NAIA, file-an mo ng kaso.' Tapos pinaalis ko na ('All those at NAIA, file cases against them.' Then I sacked them) with the end view of dismissal," Duterte added, referring to immigration officers at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport who allegedly ran the bribery scheme.

The modus was uncovered in an investigation led by Senator Risa Hontiveros that began as a probe into sex trafficking and prostitution that ran alongside Philippine offshore gaming operators (POGO) whose employees are mostly Chinese.

Immigration officers were allegedly handed P10,000 rolled up in sheets of paper – like candy rolls or pastillas – to let Chinese arrivals sneak into the country despite lacking proper immigration documents.

Also on Thursday, Immigration Officer Allison Chiong told the Senate investigating panel that majority of his colleagues posted at NAIA were in on the scheme, and only 10% were not.

Those involved received P8,000 to P20,000 weekly from the modus, Chiong alleged.

The initial statement from Duterte's spokesman Salvador Panelo after news of the modus came out earlier this week was that he would only take action if and when official charges were brought to the government.

But on Thursday afternoon, Panelo told reporters that immigration personnel allegedly involved in the crime had been relieved of their duty, since Duterte saw "probable cause" to investigate the matter.

"The President considers this anomaly, which some define as the pastillas scheme, as a grave form of corruption which cannot be countenanced by the government. As we have repeatedly stressed, there are no sacred cows in this administration," Panelo had said. – Rappler.com