FORMER justice secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II yesterday turned the tables on presidential special envoy to China Ramon Tulfo and claimed his sister, former tourism secretary Wanda Tulfo-Teo pushed for the implementation of the Visas upon Arrival (VUAs), a policy that opened the floodgates to anomalies related to the influx of Chinese tourists in the country.
In an interview with radio dzMM, Aguirre said Teo pushed for the VUA policy to improve the performance of her department.
“Walang ginagawa ‘yan sa aming Cabinet meetings kundi kausapin ako para naman daw gumanda ang performance ng DOT para dumami ang mga turistang Intsik (She did nothing in our Cabinet meetings but to ask about the visa upon arrival to boost the performance of the DOT),” Aguirre said.
“As a matter of fact, I did that (issued VUA policy) through follow ups and coordination with Tulfo’s sister, Wanda Teo,” he added.
Aguirre said the VUA was actually a good policy but was abused by authorities. He did not elaborate. “Naabuso ang VUA that’s why dumagsa ang mga Intsik,” he said.
The VUA, implemented in 2017, allowed Chinese tourists, athletes and businessmen up to three months stay in the country. The visa can be extended for another three months.
Recently, the Department of Justice (DOJ) limited the VUA to 30 days after it got complaints that the facility was being used by the Chinese to enter the country as tourists and then later find work at Philippine Offshore Gaming Operations (POGO) hubs.
During the Senate inquiry Monday on the so-called “pastillas” scheme, Sen. Risa Hontiveros said it was Aguirre who issued a 2017 department circular giving the offices headed by the father and son tandem of Maynard and Marc Red Marinas the authority to review, assess and prepare the orders of request of all VUA, instead of the immigration commissioner. The BI is an attached agency under the DOJ.
The elder Marinas was the head of the BI special operations and communications unit while his son was the chief of the ports operation division.
The younger Marinas left the BI in 2018 to prepare for his mayoral candidacy of Muntinlupa city where he lost in the 2019 polls to Jaime Fresnedi.
Though he said he appointed the younger Marinas to the post, Aguirre said he did not micromanage the bureau as he has his hands full at the DOJ already.
“I did not micromanage the BI lalo na ang dami ko ng ginagawa sa DOJ tapos under pa sa akin ang Bureau of Corrections, NBI, Land Registration Authority at iba pa,” he said.
The younger Marinas was tagged by immigration officer and whistleblower Allison Chiong as among those behind the pastillas racket.
AGUIRRE VS TULFO
Aguirre denied anew Tulfo’s accusation that he was the protector of the syndicate involved in the pastillas scheme, calling the latter a “pathological liar” and an “ACDC” (attack-collect, defend-collect) type of journalist.
The pastillas racket involved officials of the BI’s NAIA offices who collected fees ranging from P10,000 to P200,000 from Chinese fugitives, casino gamblers and tourists for easy processing of their VUAs.
Tulfo, in a hearing at the Senate on Monday, named Aguirre as the protector of the syndicate that preyed on the moneyed Chinese. Tulfo claimed Aguirre’s cuts were delivered to him in Mulanay, QUEZON via chopper by Marc Red Marinas.
Aguirre said there is no truth to Tulfo’s claim that he was the protector of the pastillas syndicate and that his share from grease monies were brought to him in his hometown.
“Wala pong katotohanan ‘yan. Kahit katiting na ebidensya maglabas siya at walang katotohanan ‘yan. Ako mismo ang susulat sa Senado na kung pwede maimbitahan ako at mapabulaanan ko ang kaniyang mga akusasyon at masabi sa kanyang mukha na sya ay pathological liar (There’s no truth to his claim. I will write the Senate myself to invite me to the next hearing so I can his accusations and tell straight to his face that he is a pathological liar),” Aguirre said.
He insisted he had no knowledge or involvement in the pastillas scheme since during his term as DOJ chief, there was no such scheme at the BI. Aguirre served as justice secretary from 2016 to April 5, 2018.
“Ngayon lang ‘yang pastillas na ‘yan at ngayon ko lang narinig ‘yan para siraan ako. Two years na akong wala sa DOJ, so bakit ako dinadamay? (I only heard of that pastillas scheme now. I’ve been out of the DOJ for two years so why am I being accused now?),” he asked. The former DOJ secretary said the accusations against him were politically motivated since he was the president of the PDP-LABAN in Quezon province and the mayor of Mulanay town is a political enemy.
He claimed the mayor had been feeding information to Tulfo that the latter writes in his newspaper column (not Malaya).
In another interview over radio DZBB, Aguirre said he and Tulfo were friends for a long time and he even served as his legal counsel when he filed cases against actor Raymart Santiago and his wife, Claudine Barreto in 2012 after getting into an altercation with them at the NAIA.
He said the friendship turned sour when he was not able to grant Tulfo’s request that the 70 libel cases filed against him by the Iglesia Ni Cristo be consolidated.
Aguirre said he told Tulfo that the matter was out of his hand as it was already being handled at the prosecutor level.
He said Tulfo then shortly started hitting him in his columns accusing him of being corrupt and other allegations.
“Feeling entitled ‘yang Tulfo na ‘yan pero ganyan ang style ng ACDC na mamamahayag.
Walang utang na loob ‘yan. Hindi nga ako nag-pabayad sa kanya nung kinuha niya akong abogado, walang kuwentang tao (He feels entitled but that is the style of an ACDC journalist. He is an ingrate as I did not even bill him when I served as his lawyer),” Aguirre said.
But Tulfo stuck by his claim against Aguirre and asked him to just own up with his wrongdoing.
“Aminin mo na lang Vit ang pagkakamali mo (Vit it would be better if you just own up to your wrongdoings), “ he said. Vit is Aguirre’s nickname.
Tulfo also denied Aguirre’s claim that he was only getting back at him after his request related to the INC cases was not granted.
He also said he got the information about Aguirre’s involvement in the pastillas scheme not only from Chiong but also from his friends at the BI and his own intelligence network.
Tulfo said he will present the person who acted as Aguirre’s “bagman” in the next Senate hearing.
Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra said the National Bureau of Investigation has been looking at alleged irregularities in the Bureau of Immigration even before Tulfo came exposed the pastillas modus.
“The NBI has already been investigating all these things since last year even before Mr. Tulfo made his revelation based on undisclosed sources,” Guevarra said.
Guevarra said the NBI is “still ongoing” and now includes the latest allegations linking Aguirre to the scheme.
Guevarra said any action to be taken by the DOJ against its former chief will be based on “competent evidence.”
“Immigration Commissioner Jaime Morente said the BI will expand its investigation into the pastillas bribery racket.
Morente had already ordered the relief of some 800 immigration frontline personnel at the NAIA while the investigation is ongoing.
MORE HEADS TO ROLL
President Duterte said he has yet to complete the list of BI official and employees that he is set to fire, but said this will include even some of fraternity brothers and people that he personally knows who have been linked to the scheme.
The President, during the oath taking of new government officials held in Malacañang, said he has always been unforgiving when it comes to corruption and had proven this when he fired several people in government including people that he appointed, knows and had worked with from the time he was still mayor of Davao City.
“Today I think I have to complete the list of officials that I’m going to fire, to dismiss from the BID, sa Bureau of Immigration. Ayaw ko kasi iyung iba kilala ko. Kaya lang iyung iba mga brod ko. Iyong iba were with me in ‘88 when I first ran for the mayorship, that was ‘88, ’98 (I still have to complete the list of officials that I’m going to fire, to dismiss from the BID, in the Bureau of Immigration. I do not want it because I know some of them.
Some are even my fraternity brothers. Others were with me in ‘88 when I first ran for the mayorship, that was ‘88, ’98),” he said.
The President last week fired more than 80 employees and officials of the immigration who were allegedly involved in the pastillas racket.
Chief Presidential Legal Counsel Salvador Panelo, concurrent presidential spokesman, said the President is giving Morente another chance to “do some innovations” in the bureau to address corruption allegations and other concerns hounding the agency.
Panelo said Morente reported during the 47th Cabinet meeting about the measures being undertaken and will be adopted by the BI to address the problems in the agency.
“He (Morente) presented. Well apparently, he (President Duterte) is giving Commissioner Morente a chance to do some innovations in the immigration department,” he said when asked on the status of Morente.
He said he is not sure if Morente has been given a deadline to initiate reforms in his office.
Panelo said there was no mention during the Cabinet meeting if Morente is exempted from the investigations but said that Duterte had already said last week that he continues to believe in the beleaguered BI chief.
Panelo, later clarified, that no one is exempted from any investigations on corruption.
“Let me make it very clear: there is nobody who is exempted from any investigation when there is a complaint of corruption. Regardless of who you are, if there is a complaint, you will be investigated,” he said. – With Jocelyn Montemayor