THE National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) yesterday filed criminal and administrative charges before the Office of the Ombudsman against 86 officials and employees of the Bureau of Immigration (BI) in connection with their alleged involvement in the “pastillas scheme” carried out in the country’s international airports.
NBI Special Action Unit chief Emeterio Donggallo Jr. said included in the second batch of respondents was Red Marinas, the chief of the BI’s Port Operations Division, whom the NBI said had appeared to be the alleged mastermind of the conspiracy.
Donggallo said that out of the 86 charged, 67 are new respondents while the 19 are the same immigration officials and employees whom the agency has already charged also before the Ombudsman in connection with the scheme.
Marinas’ successor, Grifton Medina, was also included in the second batch of respondents. Medina was the highest ranking official included in the first batch of respondents.
Last month, Medina was relieved from his post and reassigned as head of the BI’s Personnel Section after his name was linked to the scandal.
Marinas have repeatedly denied his involvement in the scheme before the Senate committee looking into the allegations that immigration officials and agents have been charging exorbitant fees against foreigners, especially Chinese tourists and high-casino rollers, for their seamless entry into the country.
Marinas was appointed to the BI by former justice secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II, who himself has denied knowledge or involvement in the corrupt scheme.
Marinas resigned as POD chief last year when he ran for the mayoralty post in Muntinlupa City in the 2019 polls where he lost to re-electionist Jaime Fresnedi.
Aside from Marinas and Medina, the NBI also implicated all the terminal heads of the Terminal Control and Enforcement Unit (TCEU) at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport terminals 1, 2 and 3 and the head of the BI’s Border Control and Intelligence Unit.
In its transmittal letter addressed to Ombudsman Samuel Martirez, the NBI also included “additional evidence” against the first batch of respondents.
Donggallo said the list of respondents grew longer after whistleblower Jeffrey Dale Ignacio corroborated the initial testimony of fellow whistleblower Allison Chiong.
Last month, Donggallo said the testimony of Ignacio, who was among the respondents in the first charge sheet, gave the NBI a clearer picture of the scheme that allowed Chinee nationals to enter the country without going through the proper immigration processes in exchange for a hefty amount of money.
Ignacio earlier identified Marinas as the alleged mastermind of the scheme.
Information provided by Ignacio also allowed the NBI to go after and arrest one of its own – lawyer Joshua Paul Capiral – who, with his brother immigration employee Christopher John, allegedly extorted money from immigration officials and agents to be excluded from the investigation and charge sheet in connection with the scheme. Capiral is the head of the NBI’s Legal Assistance unit.
The NBI has already asked the Ombudsman to exclude Ignacio from the list of respondents and instead use him as a state witness.
The Ombudsman was also asked to place the 86 under “preventive suspension” to bar them from influencing the ongoing investigation and the case.
Meanwhile, the BI announced it is imposing a one-strike policy against erring personnel as part of its effort to rid the agency of those involved in illegal acts.
Immigration Commissioner Jaime Morente said he has ordered the Board of Discipline to “carefully assess reports and complaints against erring personnel” and if there is merit, immediately recommend to the Department of Justice the filing of administrative cases against them.
The BI is one of the agencies attached to the DOJ.
“Under the one-strike policy, erring personnel subject of complaints and investigations will be relieved from the posts immediately,” Morente said, adding: “We do not tolerate corruption in our ranks.”
BI records showed that since 2016, some 131 personnel have been suspended, dismissed, and dropped from the rolls for various offenses.
Morente appealed to the public to report any illegal activities involved immigration agents to their hotline 86452400 or via messenger at facebook.com/officialbureauofimmigration and immigration.helpline.ph.