Guevarra orders NBI to expand probe on Immigration 'fixers'

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, February 23) — Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra has directed the National Bureau of Investigation to strengthen its probe on corrupt practices of Immigration personnel after Senator Risa Hontiveros flagged an allegedly new bribery scheme.

"I have directed the NBI to expand its investigation of 'fixers' activities at the BI (Bureau of Immigration) and find out who their cohorts are among the BI personnel, so that appropriate administrative and criminal charges may be filed against them," Guevarra said in a statement on Tuesday.

Hontiveros on Monday claimed the so-called pastillas scam, which allows the unchecked entry of Chinese nationals in exchange for grease money, has mutated into a bigger modus.

The senator said the Chinese are now paying ₱550,000 each for the illicit processing of their documents. When the racket was first exposed in February last year, a BI official was said to earn kickbacks ranging from ₱10,000 to ₱200,000, but this could still go as high as millions of pesos when the transaction involved high-profile personalities.

Hontiveros also called on the NBI to pin down travel agencies involved in the scam.

"Akala ko COVID-19 lang ang nagmumutate, pati pastillas scam narin pala," she said. "Dati pang kasabwat sa korapsyon sa Bureau of Immigration ang mga travel agencies sa ilegal na pagpapasok ng mga Chinese. May pandemya na, nagpapakasasa pa rin ang mga nansasamantala."

[Translation: I thought only COVID-19 mutates, but it turns out, even the 'pastillas' scam does. Travel agencies have long been in cahoots with the Bureau of Immigration's corrupt practice of illegally allowing the entry of Chinese nationals. Even when there's a pandemic, these people continue to exploit.]

Hontiveros cited the recent arrest of a liaison officer, identified as Vivian Lara, after she was caught at the BI main office receiving ₱900,000 to process the passports and visas of three Chinese nationals. These Chinese are said to be clients of a travel agency. But while Lara is an employee of a law office accredited to transact with the BI, her personal accreditation with the bureau was also found to have already expired in January.

BI Commissioner Jaime Morente has ordered the creation of a fact-finding committee to investigate the incident, saying they do not tolerate fixers.

"We are coordinating with the NBI in this investigation to see if there are cohorts inside the Bureau, and to strengthen protocols to prevent illegal fixers from extorting aliens," he added.

At least 86 Immigration personnel have been implicated in the 'pastillas' scam as of November last year.