THE Department of Justice (DOJ) said on Tuesday it is ready to reopen the investigation into corruption in the Bureau of Immigration (BI) known as the pastillas scheme, following the arrest of a high-ranking official of the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) for allegedly accepting a bribe in exchange for clearing other individuals who may be involved in the illegal practice.
DOJ Undersecretary and spokesman Markk Perete made the statement after confirming that the NBI had arrested the head of the bureau’s Legal Assistance Section (LAS), lawyer Joshua Paul Capiral.
Capiral was arrested along with his brother Christopher, who is an Immigration officer, during an entrapment.
The NBI has yet to provide further details, saying an investigation is still ongoing.
Capiral was in charge of evaluating the investigation of the Special Action Unit (SAU) on the pastillas scheme.
“The DOJ is now monitoring the proceedings in the Senate to assess if further investigation is necessary. If there is evidence that the previous investigation may have been compromised, a reinvestigation may be conducted,” Perete said.
The NBI earlier recommended the prosecution of 19 BI officials for graft in connection with the “Pastillas scam” that was exposed during a Senate inquiry early this year.
The pastillas scheme allows the smooth entry of Chinese nationals, who were about to be employed by Philippine Offshore Gaming Operator (POGO) firms, in exchange for money.
Each arriving Chinese national reportedly paid an additional P10,000 service fee, with the P2,000 divided among officials from the BI’s Travel Control and Enforcement Unit (TCEU), duty Immigration supervisor and terminal heads.
Prior to this, Justice Secretary Menardo Guevara ordered the NBI to conduct a case build-up on the alleged involvement of BI officials and employees in human trafficking and escort services.
The BI is one of the attached agencies of the DOJ and it has yet to issue a comment on the NBI’s findings.
Meanwhile, BI Commissioner Jaime Morente welcomed the arrest of Capiral for alleged bribery and extortion.
“We welcome the entrapment of the NBI on their employee who was allegedly fixing cases of those involved in the pastillas scheme,” Morente said.
“This is a result of our previous request for NBI assistance in investigating allegations of corruption in our ranks,” he added.
“We are working with those involved in the investigation as we are really serious in our goal of cleansing our ranks,” he added.
Morente also expressed the agency’s readiness to cooperate with the Senate Committee on Women, Children, Family Relations and Gender Equality, as well as the Department of Justice for the swift investigation on the alleged pastillas scheme.
The Senate Committee earlier conducted another hearing on the alleged Pastillas scheme and recommended a top-to-bottom reorganization of the BI, suspension of all involved in the scheme, as well as the suspension of the visa upon arrival (VUA) system.
In January, the BI already suspended the Visa Upon Arrival facility, in an effort to slow down the entry of tourists following the spread of Covid-19.
“We also support the recommendations of the committee on the reorganization of the Bureau and the suspension of those involved. In fact, we have already relieved the names that were mentioned in the hearing, as well as implemented a system-wide reorganization,” Morente said.
“ We implemented a total revamp of our airport personnel, all terminal heads, and all Travel Control and Enforcement heads earlier this year. I have likewise recommended the immediate relief of the sitting Chief of the Port Operations Division, pending the resolution of the investigation,” he added.
Morente clarified that the power to suspend personnel and replace the airport chief rests with the Secretary of Justice.
‘Walls closing in’
SEN. Risa Hontiveros, concluding Senate committee hearings on the inquiry into the Immigration rackets, warned that the “walls are closing in” on wayward BI agents linked to human trafficking syndicates.
Wrapping up the 5th hearing of Committee on Women, Children, Family Relations and Gender Equality, Hontiveros recalled that its original objective was to protect women and children from the scourge of human trafficking and the illegal entry of aliens into our borders.
“But these hearings have evolved and taken on a life of their own: a seeming Pandora’s box of corruption was opened at the Bureau of Immigration. The modern-day traitors who allow, for money, the entry into our borders of the three Ps: illegal POGO, Prostitution and Pandemic, have been exposed” the senator said, partly in Filipino.
She said that as a senator of the republic, “I cannot shirk from my responsibility to investigate this to the very end,” adding that she was “specifically addressing employees and former employees of the Bureau of Immigration that are or were involved in the pastillas scam: The walls are closing in on you.”
The wayward elements in BI erred in assuming they can pay off lower-level immigration officers and nobody would contradict them. “They thought nobody will dare cross them. They did not expect there is one Alex Chiong who was not afraid to tell the truth against them.”
“The [wayward BI officers] presumed they can also pay National Bureau of Investigation so that only the foot soldiers will face charges,” Hontiveros said. “They did not expect that some people will object to this and reveal that certain BI officers shelled out money so that they will not be charged by NBI.”
She urged lower-level BI employees linked to immigration rackets: “now is the time for them to speak up and help the process for attaining justice.”