MANILA – Bureau of Immigration (BI) employees implicated in the so-called “pastillas” scam will still face separate administrative charges distinct from the suits filed by the Office of the Ombudsman.
The bail for the temporary liberty of each of the 43 BI officials and staff was recommended at PHP90,000 each.
The Ombudsman charged them with violating the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act after it was uncovered that they conspired in receiving bribe money from Chinese nationals who entered the country without going through regular and stringent profiling or screening.
The money was wrapped like pastillas candies, a milk-based soft delicacy.
The foreigners were reportedly referred by a travel agency and other Chinese nationals in the country.
Department of Justice (DOJ) Secretary Menardo Guevarra said the agency launched a parallel administrative investigation after a fact-finding inquiry by the BI.
“The resolution of the separate administrative case is also forthcoming,” Guevarra told reporters via text message on Tuesday.
He said the respondents in the administrative complaint are not the same set in the criminal complaint submitted by the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) to the Ombudsman.
“It is the resolution of the administrative case that will determine the disciplinary action that may be taken against the respondents therein,” Guevarra said.
Among those slapped with graft charges were former Deputy Commissioner Marc Red Mariñas and senior immigration officers Grifton Medina, Erwin Ortañez, and Glenn Ford Comia.
In February 2020, the Senate probed the scheme, after which BI Commissioner Jaime Morente formed a fact-finding investigation committee (FFIC) to look into the alleged irregularity.
The FFIC subsequently issued a report finding prima facie evidence for grave misconduct and conduct prejudicial to the best interest of the service against the BI personnel.
The FFIC also recommended that a formal administrative investigation be conducted without prejudice to the filing of an independent criminal action.
On Oct. 23, 2020, Guevarra issued a formal charge for grave misconduct, gross neglect of duty, and conduct prejudicial to the best interest of the service against the BI officials and employees.
Senator Risa Hontiveros is thankful for the Ombudsman’s move.
“Tagumpay ito ng mga kababaihan at kabataang biktima ng human trafficking, lalo na ang mga naglakas loob magsalita tulad nina Carina at Ivy (This is a success for the women and the youth who were victims of human trafficking, especially the ones who were brave enough to speak like Carina and Ivy),” she said in a statement, referring to the two victims who testified about prostitution rings mostly serving Chinese clientele
Hontiveros, chair of the Committee on Women, Children, Family Relations and Gender Equality that helped bare details of the “pastillas” scam, said the filing of cases showed Senate hearings are indeed of help to the country.
“Pwede maging katuwang ng estado at (We can work with the state and) law enforcement agencies para labanan ang katiwalian (the committee to fight irregularities). Our committee worked very closely with the DOJ, the NBI, the DSWD (Department of Social Welfare and Development),” she said.
In November 2020, President Rodrigo Duterte summoned the suspects to Malacañang where paper bills in “pastillas” wrapper were waiting for them to munch on.
Out of respect for Guevarra who was also at the Palace at the time, the President canceled their “snack” but said he wanted them fired from the service. (PNA)