TOP airport officials were behind the “pastillas” scam that allowed foreigners, particularly Chinese workers and high-profile casino players, to breeze through immigration processes at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA), an agent of the Bureau of Immigration (BI) told senators yesterday.
Immigration officer 2 Jeffrey Dale Salameda Ignacio is the second BI personnel to testify before the Senate committee on women, children, family relations and gender equality and squeal on the airport entry scheme.
Ignacio was the same agent who tipped the National Bureau of Immigration (NBI) about the extortion activities of lawyer Joshua Capiral, who is the agency’s legal assistance bureau chief.
Ignacio had said that Capiral demanded P100,000 from the BI personnel who were charged by the NBI before the Office of the Ombudsman for graft in relation to the pastillas conspiracy allegedly in exchange for removing their names in the charge sheet, or for covering up their role in the scheme.
In his testimony before senators on Tuesday, Ignacio confirmed the earlier testimony of immigration officer 1 Allison Chiong that mostly Chinese tourists and workers were asked to pay at least P10,000 each to facilitate their speedy and trouble-free entry into the country.
Ignacio named Marc Red Marinas, former BI-Port Operations Division chief and deputy BI commissioner, as the mastermind of the scheme. He said that when Marinas left the bureau in 2019, he was replaced by his successor Grifton Medina as ring leader.
Aside from Marinas and Medina, Ignacio said the other BI officers and personnel involved in the pastillas scheme were Erwin Ortanez (overall BI Traffic Control and Enforcement Unit [TCEU] head of NAIA Terminals 1,2, and 3), Glennford Comia (TCEU head of Terminal 2), Denden Binsol (TCEU head of Terminal 3), Deon Carlo Albao (deputy TCEU head of Terminal 1), Arlan Mendoza (deputy head of TCEU Terminal 2), and Anthony Lopez (deputy TCEU head of Terminal 3).
Ignacio said the entry of Chinese tourists was facilitated by a local travel agency in coordination with Comia, Albao, Magbuhos, Binsol, and Robles.
Ignacio said he opted to come out in the open to clear his name after he and 18 other immigration officers were charged by the NBI before the Ombudsman.
He testified that he first joined the syndicate during the last quarter of 2017 on the invitation of a colleague he identified as Phol Villanueva because he was running low on earnings after their augmentation/overtime pay at the NAIA were scrapped.
“Noong wala na po akong mahiraman ng pera, doon na ako napilitan sumali sa ‘pastillas’ bilang ‘foot soldier’ kagaya ni Alex Chiong (Since I have no one to borrow money from, that’s the time I decided to join the pastillas [syndicate] as a foot soldier just like Alex Chiong),” Ignacio said.
As a “foot soldier”, Ignacio said he would readily carry out any order given him by his colleagues who belong to the higher hierarchy of the syndicate. He said he would receive between P5,000 to P20,000 every week or every other week for his services.
Ignacio said that after Chiong’s initial testimony before the Hontiveros’ panel, he received a subpoena from the NBI asking him to explain his supposed involvement in the scheme. He said he did not attend the meeting with the NBI on the advice of lawyer Joel Ferrer and his lawyer-son Jeff Ferrer, who was supposedly hired by Marinas as their legal counsel.
At the meeting, Ignacio said that the lawyers told them not appear before the NBI since it was just a subpoena and that there were no formal charges filed against them in connection with any offense.
But, Ignacio said he was surprised to find out that those who did not appear before the NBI were the ones who were charged before the Ombudsman in. “Laking gulat ko nung malaman ko na si Sir Red Marinas and Sir Erwin Ortanez at ibang boss na hindi nakasuhan ay nagbigay ng statement sa NBI. Parang ginawa kaming shield (I was surprised that Sir Red Marinas and Sir Erwin Ortanez and other bosses were not charged [before the Ombudsman] because they gave their statements to the NBI. I felt we were duped to shield them),” he added.
He said that on August 28, he was again called to join a meeting with Capiral to discuss how they can dole out P100,000 each to have their names scrapped from the charge sheet.
He said Red Marinas also confided to them that they already have a contact in the Ombudsman, which implied that they can get away with the crime.
He said it was after that meeting when he decided to secretly disclose what he knew of the pastillas scheme to the NBI.
He said the information he gave to the NBI led to the arrest of Capiral last Sept. 21 while receiving the grease money from those implicated in the pastillas scam.
Emeterio Dongallo, NBI special action unit chief, said 40 more individuals will be charged in relation to the pastillas conspiracy.
CITED IN CONTEMPT
Hontiveros, on the motion of Sen. Imee Marcos, cited four ranking pastillas scam syndicate members who did not attend the hybrid hearing called by her committee.
“We move to cite in contempt the BI resource persons with unjustified absences… and I request the sergeant of arms of the Senate to present you before the committee next hearing,” Hontiveros said.
Thos who were cited in contempt were Marinas and his father Maynardo Marinas, Rodolfo “Totoy” Magbuhos, and Danieve Binsol.
Hontiveros said they were not satisfied with the reason given by the four for not attending the hearing even remotely.
Ferrer said in a letter addressed to Hontiveros that his clients cannot attend the hearing “due to age and health reasons.”
“As regards Messrs. Red Marinas and Danieve Binsol, they are respectfully pleading to be excused. Previously they have appeared and testified already in the same matter of Senate Resolution No. 131. Further, there is an ongoing investigation against them delving on the same issues with the National Bureau of Investigation,” Ferrer said.
“Other than what they have testified in the previous hearing and their declarations in their affidavit duly submitted to the NBI, they deem that there is nothing new more that they can contribute to the forthcoming hearing,” he added.