Aguirre not off the hook in ‘pastillas’ probe

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    FORMER justice secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II remains a person of interest in the continuing Senate committee investigation into the “pastillas” conspiracy among corrupt immigration officials and agents, Sen. Risa Hontiveros said yesterday.

    In an interview with CNN Philippines, Hontiveros said Aguirre is not off the hook yet in the search for the protector of the pastillas scam syndicate, which carried out its operation in the country’s international airports.

    Hontiveros noted how the scheme started after Aguirre issued Department Order 41 in 2017, which centralized the issuance of visas upon arrival (VUAs) for foreigners to the Bureau of Immigration.

    The senator said Aguirre’s directive “opened the floodgates to the very lax oversight on the VUA” that institutionalized “a one stop shop of corruption right in the Bureau of Immigration.”

    She added that the VUA system was apparently used by members of the pastillas syndicate to extort at least P10,000 from each arriving Chinese tourist for their seamless entry to the country.

    Hontiveros also noted that it was Aguirre who supposedly appointed Marc Red Marinas as BI deputy commissioner and BI port operations division chief. Marinas was tagged by whistleblowers Alex Chiong and Jeffrey Dale Ignacio as the modus’ “ring leader.”

    Without presenting solid evidence yet, Hontiveros said she believes that the pastillas syndicate was enjoying the protection of either top officials of the BI or the Department of Justice.

    “That’s why we continue to question former Justice Secretary Aguirre because he was the secretary who appointed Marc Red Marinas and his father Maynardo (as BI special operations communications unit) in 2016. It was also Aguirre who issued Department Order 41 which opened the floodgates, not only to Chinese tourists into our country, because that was the original intention of the department order. But given the lax oversight which followed, crooks in the BI saw this as an opportunity),” Hontiveros said.

    “So, he (Aguirre) remains, in a way, a person of interest in the mind of the committee as far as searching for the protector of the Marinas father and son team,” she added.

    Aguirre brought Marinas to the BI in 2016. However, Marinas left the bureau in 2018 to run as mayor of Muntinlupa City. Marinas, on the other hand, installed three BI Traffic Control Enforcement Unit heads – Glen Comia, Bien Guevarra, and Den Binsol – who have also been implicated in the pastillas scheme.

    BI deputy commissioner Tobias Javier, however, said it was Morente who appointed Maynardo Marinas as BI-SOCU head.