October 20, 2020
Hontiveros bares estimated P40b kickback from BI’s schemes
Corrupt “business model” of visas of Chinese nationals and ‘pastillas scam’ exposed
Senator Risa Hontiveros on Tuesday revealed that masterminds of a notorious “business model” at the Bureau of Immigration have pocketed a total of P40 billion pesos since 2017 from facilitating the arrivals of Chinese nationals through the so-called Visa Upon Arrival (VUA) and the “pastillas scam” (non-VUA transactions).
“May nangungurakot sa bawat sulok ng Bureau of Immigration (BI). Sa ‘pastillas’ scam, ang estimate natin ay natabo ng mga mastermind na nito ay P30 billion, that’s based on the arrival data of Chinese nationals na non-VUA. Sa VUA naman, another revenue stream, the kickbacks go straight into the pockets of some officials,” Hontiveros said.
According to the figures provided by the bureau, there have been about four million Chinese nationals who have entered the country since 2017. The senator also took note of this unusually large number: “The numbers are staggering. For the sake of comparison, four million Chinese nationals arriving here since 2017 is comparable to more than the entire population of Quezon City. Kumbaga, bakit mas marami pa sa mga residente ng QC ang bilang ng Chinese na pinapapasok sa bansa?” Hontiveros said.
Of these four million Chinese nationals, around 3.8 million were non-VUA applicants while around 150,000 were VUA applicants. Around three million of these non-VUA applicants are believed to have paid the extra P10,000 service fee in the ‘pastillas’ scam. According to whistleblowers Alex Chiong and Dale Ignacio, masterminds of the scam take part of the bribe money.
“Sa Pastillas, ang pera pumapasok sa airport, tapos sa mga IO (Immigration Officer) pinapamigay. Bago siya mag resign, si Red Mariñas ang in charge bilang chief ng Ports Operations Division (POD),” Hontiveros said.
Meanwhile, when it comes to the questionable VUA transactions, the bribe allegedly goes straight to the main office, where the visas are approved.
“Sa VUA, diretso sa main office. Bago siya mag retire, si Maynardo Mariñas, ang ama ni Red, ang in charge dito bilang head ng Special Operations Communications Unit (SOCU), which checks and audits the VUAs. Tiba-tiba ang pamilyang Mariñas, pero nanatili pa din na tanong ay: sino ang protector nila?” the senator said, as she continues to search for the ‘big fish’ behind the systematic corruption in the bureau.
WHERE DID THE FATHER AND SON GET THEIR POWER?
After being cited in contempt in the previous (October 6) hearing, both Red and Maynardo were now in attendance and were given a chance to clarify their roles in the BI. Hontiveros however highlighted that Red and Maynardo were appointed heads of their respective divisions in July 2016 by then Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre.
About a year later, in 2017, Aguirre issued Department Order No. 41 which allowed citizens of the People’s Republic of China to enter the Philippines without having previously obtained a visa from the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA).
It had been established in previous hearings that visa upon arrivals were processed by travel agencies, many of whom only required a mere screen shot of the applicant’s passport sent via the WeChat application. The person involved could have been trafficked by a syndicate, but as long as she or he had no derogatory record on paper, then that person would have been able to enter the country with a VUA.
However, the senator is resolute this system may have started a corrupt “business model” which is now coming under greater pressure to unravel.
Since the hearings began in February, the “pastillas scam” investigations have spilled over into other agencies of government. The Senate Committee on Women, Children, Family, Relations, and Gender Equality Committee initially sought to probe prostitution and slave-like conditions related to the rise of POGOs.
“Dahil sa kasakiman ng sarili nating mga opisyal, naging pugad ang Pilipinas ng sangkatutak na krimen: illegal POGO, prostitusyon, kidnapping, at marami pang iba. In exchange for Chinese money, our borders have been made porous, our women and children made vulnerable,” the senator said.
“Hindi tayo titigil hangga’t sa hindi maparusahan ang mga nagpahamak sa ating seguridad, kababaihan, at kabataan. Hindi tayo titigil hangga’t hindi mabuwag ang puno’t dulo ng korapsyong ito,” Hontiveros concluded.