Immigration revamps airport offices; 800 personnel affected

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    IMMIGRATION Commissioner Jaime Morente yesterday reshuffled his personnel in all terminals of the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) amid the furor that the exposé on the alleged “pastillas” bribery scheme has raised in Malacañang.

    BI spokeswoman Dana Krizia Sandoval said the “total revamp” affected nearly 800 personnel assigned to NAIA terminals 1, 2 and 3 from the Port Operations Division (POD) deputies, terminal heads down to counter personnel.

    The revamp excluded POD chief Grifton Medina, whose continued hold on his position depends on President Duterte, according to Morente.

    “This practice of rotating and changing assignments on a regular and programmed basis is both a means to enable better performance and encourage skill upgrades, as well as a necessary precaution against possible avenues of graft and corruption,” Morente said.

    President Duterte on Wednesday said Morente will stay on as BI chief pending the results of the Senate investigation into the “pastillas” scheme and on issues related to the flourishing Philippine Offshore Gaming Operations (POGO) in the country.

    The pastillas scheme involved immigration officials and personnel who facilitate hassle-free visa and immigration processes for Chinese fugitives, high-roller casino players and tourists in exchange for grease money amounting to as low as P10,000 to P200,000 per transaction.

    Prior to the revamp, Morente has sacked five immigration officials including the terminal heads of the travel and control enforcement unit in its NAIA office following the disclosure of Sen. Risa Hontiveros of the pastillas modus.

    He had also created a fact-finding committee headed by Deputy Commissioner Tobias Javier to dig deeper into the allegation.

    Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra has likewise tasked the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) to include in its investigation the reported pastillas operations. The NBI has yet to complete its probe into the reported involvement of immigration personnel in human trafficking and escort services.

    But even before the internal BI and NBI investigations could kick off, the President last week announced that he has “terminated” 83 immigration personnel due to corruption issues.

    The President, during the graduation of 112 police officials who undertook the Public Safety Basic Advance and Basic Courses held in Davao City, has lamented that despite Morente’s efforts to rid the bureau of corruption, “hindi niya kaya (he cannot do it).”

    On the same day that the termination of the 83 staff was announced, 18 immigration officials were likewise relieved from their positions, nine of whom were identified in a Senate hearing as among those involved in the pastillas bribery conspiracy.

    Frontline immigration officer Allison Chiong has testified before the Senate and named former POD chief Red Marinas, BI-Travel Control Enforcement Unit chiefs Bien Guevarra, Glenn Comia, and Den Binsol; Totoy Magbuhos, Deon Albao, Paul Borja, Anthony Lopez, and Dennis Robles as among those involved in the bribery ruse.

    BI records show that since 2016, some 70 immigration personnel has been dismissed and suspended for various offenses, while more than 200 cases have been filed against erring personnel.

    SURRENDER ILLEGAL WORKERS

    The Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corporation (PAGCOR) yesterday appealed to POGO operators to surrender to the Chinese embassy all of their illegal workers, especially those with suspected criminal liabilities.

    PAGCOR made the statement after the Chinese Embassy in Manila confirmed a crackdown on its nationals with criminal records who are believed to be working illegally in POGOs in the country or are doing business in the Philippines.

    “The crackdown is a result of PAGCOR’s constant coordination with the Chinese embassy and law enforcement agencies to ensure that proper regulations are observed,” it said.

    “With China’s recent move, illegal Chinese workers who are involved in various cybercrime fraud, including those who are employed in the POGOs, will have to face the consequences,” it added.

    The agency said that at least 2,000 or three percent of the 70,000 Chinese illegally working in POGOs or engaged in other fraudulent offshore operations have been repatriated to China since January 15 last year.

    “In view of this development, PAGCOR will continue to cooperate closely with the Chinese embassy and other law enforcement agencies to help arrest illegal aliens and penalize employers who are coddling Chinese fugitives,” the agency said.

    The state-run gaming agency said it is continuously working with concerned agencies like the DOJ for the creation of an operations center where all problems related to illegal gambling and cybercrimes will be coursed through.

    “With this shared effort, PAGCOR can be ensured that all operations being made by the law enforcement agencies are in accordance with the law,” it said.

    NO TO PAY INCREASE

    Sen. Panfilo Lacson on Thursday dismissed calls of a pay increase made by personnel of the immigration bureau.

    German Robinn, Immigration Officers’ Association of the Philippines president, has appealed to lawmakers to pass a measure that would make their salaries at par with their foreign counterparts, pointing out that their current salaries have been affected by the cut of their overtime pay.

    “First, I don’t buy that crap. The suspension or termination of their overtime pay and their non-inclusion in the salary hike of other government employees should not be a justifiable reason to commit illegal acts in order to augment their income,” Lacson said, as he stressed that it is public knowledge that government work does not pay much.

    Lacson said benefits in the government sector are governed by rules and regulations, hence government workers must not expect to be equal with their counterparts in the private sector.

    He said even if the government grants the immigration officers pay hikes, Lacson believes that their illegal schemes will not end.

    “The huge payoffs involved in the racket or scheme have been going on in the immigration bureau for some time. It is not a consequence of low pay and lack of overtime benefits but of greed and corrupt attitudes of government workers who are clothed with the power and authority that go with their positions,” Lacson said. – With Angela Lorraine Celis and Raymond Africa