Hontiveros warns of continued presence of ‘protector’ amid new pastillas scam

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(FILE PHOTO)

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, February 25)— Senator Risa Hontiveros on Thursday raised the possibility of the continued presence of a “protector” who may be helping strengthen the so-called “pastillas” bribery scheme within the Bureau of Immigration.

Hontiveros, who earlier flagged the alleged new and bigger modus within the agency, said the pastillas scam continues even with complaints lodged against BI officials and personnel.

Mukhang (It looks like) there’s really still a protector who is operating, emboldening those who remain inside and their cohorts for example in the travel agencies to now mutate the original pastillas into something even much more profitable for them,” Hontiveros said in an interview with CNN Philippines’ The Source.

Mukha ngang walang kadala dala (It looks like they haven’t learned),” she added. “I think their business model is too profitable for them in the past several years already.”

The controversial pastillas scheme, first brought to light last year, allegedly allows Chinese nationals to enter the country seamlessly and without background checks in exchange for grease money. The operation was dubbed “pastillas" because money would be hidden in rolled bond paper like the wrapping for the milk candy.

But earlier this week, Hontiveros warned that this has mutated into a bigger modus— which she claimed now pays a hefty ₱550,000 per person compared to the original kickback ranging from ₱10,000.

“Probably they’re emboldened, because the roots haven’t really been deeply pulled out, uprooted, to put an end to this corruption in one of our important government agencies,” the senator added.

Dozens of Immigration personnel have been implicated in the pastillas scam as of late 2020, with the Ombudsman ordering the suspension of several employees. Former Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II was earlier tagged as the supposed protector of the bribery system, but the official repeatedly denied the allegations hurled against him.

READ: Aguirre denies being mastermind of 'pastillas' scheme

Following Hontiveros’ claim, Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra said he has directed the National Bureau of Investigation to strengthen its probe on the alleged corrupt practices of the BI personnel.

The senator, meanwhile, said the upper chamber’s committee on women would also be looking into the issue.