SEN. Francis “Kiko” Pangilinan yesterday slammed the leadership of the Bureau of Immigration (BI) for its slap-on-the-wrist sanction on its personnel accused of involvement in the operation of the “pastillas” scheme that offered easy entry to Chinese fugitives, gamblers and tourists after payment of thousands of pesos in grease money.
Pangilinan said BI officers implicated during a Senate committee hearing should have been kicked out of service, instead of merely being revamped and reassigned to different posts.
“Meron mga tinanggal pero reassigned lang pala sila, hindi naman talaga tinanggal as in sinibak. Sinibak ibig sabihin ni-reaasign (The BI leadership removed them but they were just reassigned. Not totally booted out of the service but were just reassigned),” Pangilinan said in an interview over dzRH.
He added: “Hanggat hindi mo pinaparusahan ang mga nagkakasala ay paulit-ulit lang ang gagawing kalokohan. Hindi seryoso, ‘yun pala drawing lang. ‘Yun ang nakakalungkot. Biruin mo pastillas, bilyon, may ebidensiya na, hindi nga sinibak, hindi tinerminate, na-reassign lang. Kumbaga, ang batas ay para doon lang sa kalaban . Pero kung kakampi, hindi na kinakailangan ipatupad ang batas. Hindi tama ito (Unless those who err are punished, this will be a vicious cycle. The government’s anti-corruption campaign is a farce, that’s the saddest thing. Like in the pastillas scheme, billions of pesos have changed hands, there is evidence to back it and yet those involved were merely reassigned, not terminated. The law here applies only to those who oppose the administration and if you’re on their side, there’s no need to implement the law. This is not right).”
Pangilinan lamented the administration’s penchant to recycle officers dragged in controversies, such as former Bureau of Customs commissioner Nicanor Faeldon who was reassigned to the Bureau of Corrections (BuCOr) after billions of pesos worth of shabu slipped past the BOC during his leadership.
Pangilinan likewise decried that despite the lapses in the management of the BI, President Duterte still came to the defense of Immigration Commissioner Jaime Morente.
COUNTER-INTEL OPS VS CHINESE
Sen. Richard Gordon on Sunday said the National Security Council (NSC) and the Armed Forces’ intelligence service (ISAFP) should conduct counter-intelligence operations on Chinese people staying in the country to make sure that the more than 500,000 Chinese who entered the country for the past three months are not engaged in spying activities.
In an interview over radio dzBB, Gordon said: “Dapat may counter-intelligence tayo, nag-a assess tayo. I hope nag-a-assess ang ating national security, in-a-assess din ng army intelligence, sinusundan nila ‘yan (We must have counter-intelligence [operations], we must have a periodic assessment. I hope the national security is assessing them, I hope the army intelligence is doing the same, they must follow these people).”
Records from the BOC show there were 536,205 Chinese who arrived in the country from December 1 last year to February this year, of which around 4,850 came from Wuhan City, the epicenter of the corona virus disease-19, while the others came from neighboring areas in Hubei Province.
According to the BOC report, 156,000 of the Chinese have alien employment permits; 115,000 had special work permits; and 77,000 had pre-arranged employment visas.
Gordon said the entry of more than 500,000 Chinese in just three months could have serious national security concerns.
“Ang big sabihin ngayon na while they’re at that, they can gather all kinds of information – gaano kalawak ang sentro kung mag-i-invade tayo, kung may away dito, paano tayo papasok… lahat ‘yan inaaral. Now remember ang Huawei pinapahirapan nila President Turmp sa Amerika dahil ang Huawei gamit sa paniniktik (The implication now is that these Chinese can gather all kinds of information while they’re here – how vast is the Philippine’s territory if they invade us, where will they enter if war erupts. All those information are being studied. Now remember, Huawei is having a hard time to penetrate the US market by President Trump due to suspicions it is being used for espionage),” he said.
Also, Gordon said there is need for counter-intelligence operations against Chinese tourists as he noted that in a subdivision near the Ninoy Aquino International Airport, at least 70 percent of its residents are Chinese who have even managed to build a firing range in the area.
He likewise urged authorities to look into the recent gun shooting incident in Makati City involving a Chinese man with an identification card showing he is a member of the Peoples Liberation Army of China. The victims, reports said, were workers of a Philippine Offshore Gaming Operator (POGO) outlet.
He wondered how the Chinese tourist managed to get hold of a gun while in the country.
Gordon said the government should be wary over reports from the BOC that Chinese tourists have brought in a total of $188 million which they claimed they will spend for gambling, touring, and shopping.
The report said around 60 of the tourists brought in $3 million each, while there were others who declared they were carrying $4 million in cash upon arrival.
Gordon rang the bell on the possibility that the large amounts of dollars brought in could be a ruse to launder the money.
“Ang talagang pakay niyan kunwari magsusugal ka, isasauli ngayon sa iyo kasi nanalo ka.
Tapos ide-deposit mo sa bangko. Legal na ‘yun ngayon. Pwede mo na ipadala sa Hong Kong, i-tseke na lang
(The real intention of these people is to gamble so that their money can be laundered. Then they will deposit the money in the bank which will now make it legal, then send them to, say, Hong Kong, in the form of a check),” he said.
He said if the money will not be used for illegal purposes, then it should have been brought in the country through bank transfers for transparency.
Gordon aired the suspicion that the Chinese are enjoying the protection of corrupt local officials but did not elaborate.
Instead, he said the Senate blue ribbon committee which he chairs will conduct an investigation on the issues surrounding the influx of Chinese tourists in the country, and focus on their possible money-laundering activities and other controversies involving the people of China.
Senate minority leader Franklin Drilon reminded banks, casinos, and other financial institutions that they have an obligation to inform the AMLC of any cash transaction of more than P5 million or $100,000.
Drilon clarified that bringing in large sums of money is not illegal per se but one must declare details of the money before the BOC upon entry.
He said the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corporation, which has supervision over casinos, should shed light on the matter when Gordon holds an investigation.
He said the Chinese bringing in such huge amounts of money is highly questionable since such amounts can provide funding for private armies, terror activities, for enemies of the state, and even for purchase of real estates.