Exclude Senate ‘pastillas’ witness in suspension order, Ombudsman urged

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    SEN. Risa Hontiveros on Wednesday asked the Office of the Ombudsman to reconsider the preventive suspension it slapped on an immigration officer who had testified at the Senate committee investigation into the “pastillas” scam involving corrupt agents and officials of the Bureau of Immigration (BI).

    Hontiveros, chairwoman of the Senate committee looking into anomalies related to the illegal entry of foreigners into the country, said Jeffrey Dale Ignacio should have been spared from the six months preventive suspension without pay since he has been helping the Senate and the National Bureau of Investigation in their investigation.

    “However, whistleblower Jeffrey Dale Ignacio, who turned state witness by testifying how BI officials institutionalized corruption in the agency, has been included in this suspension. I hope the Ombudsman can consider reversing this order against Dale as his testimony, which completed the picture of the corrupt system in the BI, has been invaluable in our Senate probe as well as the NBI’s own investigation,” Hontiveros said.

    Ignacio first surfaced early October before the Senate committee on women and gender equality which Hontiveros chairs and corroborated the testimony of Allison Chiong, also an immigration officer, on how the “pastillas” syndicate operated at the four terminals of Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA).Both Ignacio and Chiong named Marc Red Marinas, a former BI deputy commissioner and head of the BI’s port operations division, as the scam’s mastermind. Marinas has denied the allegations.

    The two witnesses have also said that the pastillas scheme involved squeezing P10,000 from each arriving Chinese tourist for their seamless entry to the country.

    Hontiveros has said that the syndicate could have raked in more than P30 billion as more than 4 million Chinese tourists have entered the country since 2017.

    The term “pastillas” was coined by members of the syndicate as a code for the money that they roll once they receive it from incoming Chinese tourists and which they make it appear like a pastillas or rolled dessert made of from milk.

    In an order signed by Ombudsman Samuel Martires dated Monday but was released Tuesday, he ordered the six-month suspension of 44 BI officers believed to be involved in the illegal activity.

    Hontiveros said the suspension order was a welcome development in the ongoing Senate investigation.

    “Having led the pastillas scam inquiry for almost 10 months now, I am gratified to see that the sacrifices of our whistleblowers, the fruits of our labor, and the diligence of our law enforcers can bring erring officials to justice,” she said.