Morente stays for now – Duterte

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    PRESIDENT Duterte yesterday said Immigration Commissioner Jaime Morente would stay on as head of the Bureau of Immigration (BI) for now, even as he warned that more people from the agency supposed to be involved in the alleged “pastillas” bribery scheme will soon be relieved.

    The President said he will wait for Congress to conclude its investigation on the pastillas modus before he decides on the fate of Morente.

    “I defer to Congress first before I make any decision,” he said.

    Duterte last week vouched for the integrity of Morente, a former police chief of Davao City, amid the latest bribery scandal hounding the BI.

    An immigration agent has detailed during a Senate hearing the alleged participation of some BI officials and employees in the pastillas scheme, which involve the seamless entry of Chinese fugitives, casino high-rollers and tourists in exchange for the payment of grease money from P10,000 to P200,000 per transaction.

    Most of the Chinese tourists who enter the country who pay for easy processing of their upon arrival visas end up working in Philippine Offshore Gaming Operators (POGO) outlets, according to the Senate witness.

    The President had already ordered the relief of more than 80 immigration officials and employees involved in the bribery scheme.

    “I am insisting on the ouster of all who are, I think we have terminated. But there would be more. I think meron yatang napaalis na. But they should be replaced, all of them (I am insisting on the ouster of all who are… I think we have terminated. But there would be more. I think we have already relieved some. But they should be replaced, all of them), “he said.

    Duterte said he had also directed the Civil Service Commission to submit a list of “first grade” civil service examination passers who have “good records, scholastically and academics” and said he would pick from them who can be appointed to replace those who have been fired from the BI.

    On the issue of the POGOs, Duterte said he is waiting for the issues surrounding the POGOs to settle down before taking any action.

    “I will not investigate when there’s a flurry of, you know, actions being taken here and there and also with the… the investigation in China. It would be prudent for me, I think, to just wait,” the President said.

    BI spokesperson Dana Krizia Sandoval yesterday said the Chinese government said the Chinese Embassy in Manila has confirmed reports about its plan to cancel the passports of its citizens involved in telecommunications fraud and online illegal activities while in the country.

    “Yes, they (embassy) has confirmed the plan but they have been doing this already since the past, since these are considered fugitives from justice by being criminally liable in their homeland,” Sandoval said.

    Sandoval said the move will not be sweeping but will be targeted against Chinese nationals involved in telecoms fraud, phishing and other illegal online activities.

    She said the victims of these activities are mostly located in mainland China and other countries.

    “Most of their targets are senior citizens or those who are not knowledgeable about information technology. They are scammers who entice their victims to invest or get information of their victims through phishing,” Sandoval explained.

    Sandoval said the cancellation of the passports is aimed at fast-tracking their deportation.
    Their names will also be included in the immigration’s blacklist to prevent their re-entry to the country.

    But Sandoval said those who committed crimes here would be held and tried first before they will be deported.

    “Pag dito sila nakagawa ng crime o naka-pang-biktima kakasuhan natin, pero kapag sa ibang bansa ang biktima, ide-deport natin. We at the BI can only prosecute immigration-related crimes, kapag criminal cases, pulis ang magsasampa ng kaso (If they commit crimes here, they will face charges here but if their victims are out of the country, they will be deported. We at the BI can only prosecute immigration-related crimes while criminal cases would be prosecuted by the police),” Sandoval said.

    The Senate has been holding hearings on the entry of Chinese working in POGO outlets and the rising criminal activities related to the flourishing illegal online gambling trade.

    Several senators have already expressed concern that POGO operators are evading the payment of taxes while the police have noted a sharp increase in the number of crimes involving Chinese nationals in the country. – With Ashzel Hachero