THE syndicate running the bribery racket at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) does not only have Bureau of Immigration (BI) insiders working for it but travel operators and other outside contacts as well.
The well-entrenched, far-ranging operation makes it harder for investigators to crack, Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra said on Friday.
He bared that the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) was looking into possible connivance between immigration officers, tour operators and travel agencies that facilitated the entry into the country of Chinese nationals who ended up working for Philippine offshore gambling operators (POGOs).
Guevarra said the NBI started its investigation long before the scam was exposed by Sen. Ana Theresia “Risa” Honteveros during a Senate investigation earlier this week.
The bribe money from the Chinese were rolled up in bond paper that resembled pastillas or rolled milk candy.
Immigration spokesman Dana Sandoval said BI Commissioner Jaime Morente had formed a special investigation task force to conduct a separate investigation with the help of the
Department of Justice (DoJ) and the NBI.
“The probe is focused on NAIA, which is the subject of the expose of Senator Hontiveros but, of course, management will be looking at the possibility of this being replicated in other ports,” she added.
Guevarra said Chinese citizens who bribed their way into the Philippines would be deported
He also said the DoJ had taken custody of Immigration Officer 1 Allison Chiong, who confirmed the so-called pastillas payola operation at a Senate hearing.
Guevarra bared that Chiong had been provisionally admitted into the government’s Witness Protection Program on the request of Hontiveros.
President Rodrigo Duterte has ordered the relief of all immigration personnel involved in the bribery scheme.
He had vouched for Morente, a former Davao City police chief. On Friday, however, Palace spokesman Salvador Panelo said the President’s friendship with Morente does not spare him from being fired.
“Everyone is not off the hook, [but] the confidence [on Morente] is there until a contrary statement is made by the President,” he said during a media interview.
Sen. Panfilo Lacson, chairman of the Senate Committee on National Defense and Security committee, said whistleblowers were mostly credible, but only until they retract their statements.
“In my experience in the many Senate inquiries that I have presided and the other senate committees have conducted, whistleblowers are mostly credible, but only until they retract their statements. Naging tig singko sentimos na lang ang pagsisinungaling under oath (Lying under oath is now only worth five centavos), said Lacson.
He was referring to Chiong, who admitted he was the source of the video shown by
Hontiveros, which showed officers facilitating the immigration process for Chinese POGO workers at NAIA.
Lacson said this is the reason, and more, that he filed a bill to amend the law on perjury.
WITH CATHERINE S. VALENTE AND JAVIER JOE ISMAEL