Aguirre denies being mastermind of 'pastillas' scheme

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, September 22) — Former Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II on Tuesday insisted on his innocence amidst allegations that he received in the past bribes known as ‘pastillas.'

“Wala po akong alam diyan sa pastillas scam. Iyan po ay under ng Bureau of Immigration. Dapat po diyan, ang Bureau of Immigration ang nakakaalam,” Aguirre said during a hearing on the so-called pastillas scheme, which lets Chinese nationals enter the country seamlessly for a “service fee.” The kickback ranges from P10,000 to P200,000 but it could go as high as millions of pesos when the transaction involves high profile personalities, a whistleblower said in February.

[Translation: I know nothing about the pastillas scam. That is under the Bureau of Immigration. The Bureau of Immigration should have known about it.]

Aguirre also denied being the mastermind of the modus. “Paano 'ko naging mastermind? Ako ay nag-resign noong April 5, 2018. Sumabog ang pastillas nitong latter of 2019 na.”

[Translation: How did I become the mastermind? I resigned on April 5, 2018. The pastillas issue exploded in the latter part of 2019.]

Aguirre was tagged by The Manila Times columnist Ramon Tulfo as the protector of the bribery system in the Bureau of Immigration.

In the same hearing, Tulfo showed a photo of the helicopter purportedly used to deliver Aguirre’s share of the pastillas' grease money to his beach house in Mulanay town in Quezon. He also identified Aguirre’s alleged bagman as Burgos "Boogie" Bariata, who Tulfo said was neither working for the Bureau of Immigration nor the Department of Justice. Aguirre admitted that he knows Bariata, as they are from the same town, but noted this does not prove anything.

Meanwhile, the accusation that immigration officers used to fly to Mulanay by chopper to bring him grease money was based on “hearsay,” Aguirre said of Tulfo’s accusation.

“He was just swallowing hook, line and sinker ng kung anumang fini-feed sa kanya ng mga taga Quezon na kalaban ko sa pulitika (of whatever that is fed to him by my enemies in politics in Quezon),” Aguirre said.

He also said that Tulfo dragged his name in the controversy because he has filed cyber libel and libel cases against him for a series of articles he wrote in The Manila Times.

But Tulfo stood by his statements and maintained, “I was never motivated by malice when I exposed the human trafficking syndicate in the Ninoy Aquino International Airport.”

In February, Senator Risa Hontiveros exposed the pastillas scheme. The operation is called "pastillas" because the money would be hidden in rolled bond paper like the wrapping for the milk candy. But Hontiveros said this has been upgraded to pay envelopes for the release of kickbacks.

READ: Witness: 90% of Immigration Bureau personnel involved in 'pastillas' schemeh