‘Pastillas’ scheme windfall could reach P40B: Hontiveros

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    IMMIGRATION officials and agents allegedly involved in the “pastillas” scheme at the country’s international airports could have amassed close to P40 billion since 2017 for facilitating the arrivals of Chinese tourists through the Visa upon Arrival (VUA) transactions, Sen. Risa Hontiveros said yesterday.

    As the Senate committee on women, children, family relations, and gender equality commenced its seventh hearing into the conspiracy, Hontiveros cited data which she said were provided by the Bureau of Immigration (BI) showing that an estimated four million Chinese tourists arrived in the country from 2017 to the time the pastillas scheme was exposed early this year.

    Of the number, she said around 3.8 million were non-VUA applicants, while some 150,000 were VUA applicants.

    “Around three million of these non-VUA applicants are believed to have paid the extra P10,000 service fee in the pastillas scam,” Hontiveros said, adding that the bribe money paid by the foreign applicants went straight to the BI’s main office where the visas are approved.

    Hontiveros said that she has been getting more information about the scheme, she has yet to unearth who is the protector or protectors of the modus operandi.

    Sen. Christoper Go urged the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) to work double time after the agency told senators that it is still trying to find out the brains behind the conspiracy.

    “To the NBI please work double time in your investigation, the President is waiting. He has been asking me about the identities of those involved in the scheme and we really want to know who they are,” Go said.

    Go likewise urged Immigration Commissioner Jaime Morente to rid the agency of its corrupt personnel.

    Also during the hearing, Marc Red Marinas reiterated his innocence in the accusations made by whistleblowers Allison Chiong and Jeffrey Dale Ignacio that he was on top of the pyramid running the pastillas scheme.

    Marinas, who was absent during the sixth hearing last October 6, was physically present at the Senate after he was given a warning that he will be cited in contempt if he still fails to show up in yesterday’s hearing.

    “I’d like to deny the allegations of Mr. Ignacio that I am the mastermind of this pastillas (scheme), just for the record your honor,” Marinas said.

    Ignacio had backed the earlier allegations made by Chiong that Marinas was the ringleader of the syndicate.