‘Magkano at hanggang kanino?’: Hontiveros reveals bribery in entry of POGO workers

Senator Risa Hontiveros confronted Bureau of Immigration (BI) officials on Monday, February 17, if they were aware of the modus, where Chinese employees of Philippine offshore gaming operators (POGO) allegedly seamlessly enter the country for a P10,000 fee per person.

BI authorities said that it was the first time for them to hear of the systematic practice, which the senator said was called pastillas because payouts are rolled in bond paper. Now compensation is more sophisticated, with payouts placed in envelopes and free lunch provided by the Chinese.

In a Senate hearing that probed sex trafficking and prostitution rings linked to POGOs, Hontiveros showed a video and screenshots of Viber groups of immigration employees facilitating the entry of Chinese persons. The screenshots contained names, flight details, and photos of the arriving Chinese.

“You have been in charge since November 2018…. Either you are complicit or you are negligent. And I don’t know which is worse,” Hontiveros told the immigration officials present.

BREAKDOWN. A Viber screenshot from an informant shows how immigration officers split funds made from the 'pastillas' modus.

BREAKDOWN. A Viber screenshot from an informant shows how immigration officers split funds made from the 'pastillas' modus.

Screenshot sourced from Senator Risa Hontiveros

'VIPs.' Viber screenshots show names and photos of expected arriving Chinese.

'VIPs.' Viber screenshots show names and photos of expected arriving Chinese.

Screenshot sourced from Senator Risa Hontiveros

Hindi magiging ganito ka-systematic kung walang padrino ang mga ito…. Hindi tanong kung may kumikita ba sa ganitong operasyon, kundi magkano at hanggang kanino,” said Hontiveros.

(It would not be this systematic if there is no sponsor behind this…. This is not a question of whether someone is profiting from this operation, but a question of how much and how high up are the officials involved.)

Service fee

Hontiveros opened the hearing with a presentation that said, "We sold our borders for Chinese money."

Her informant reported that the Chinese apply for tourist visas and pay a P10,000 service fee. P2,000 of this is split among airport immigration, and P8,000 is distributed among the Chinese operator, the local operator, and syndicates. (LOOK: How syndicates, airport officials split P10,000 bribe from POGO workers)

In a previous hearing in January, the BI revealed that 1.8 million Chinese entered the country in recent years. Hontiveros put the pastillas modus in perspective: say 800,000 are actual tourists or students. If one million arrived through pastillas, then at least P1 billion kickback must have been made.

'Unaware'

Grifton Medina from the BI port operations division said they didn't tolerate these activities. Without giving specifics, he said they had instilled reforms to combat corruption. They also reported reshuffling and removing officers from airports.

But Hontiveros said the informant’s evidence was given only recently – some pieces of evidence dated as late as last January 15.

Deputy Commissioner Tobias Javier also said he would tell Commissioner Jaime Morente to convene the board of commissioners to take appropriate action in view of the video shown in the hearing.

Medina, Javier, and intelligence division chief Fortunato Manahan all said that they weren't aware of any of the pastillas operations.

So sa changes sa airport, hindi 'nyo natunugan itong pastillas operation? Di talaga kapanipaniwala (So in the changes at the airport, you never heard of the pastillas operation? That's unbelievable)," said Hontiveros. "And I hate to say this to resource persons, but please don’t lie. You are under oath, I am reminding you once more."

BI officials may face charges under the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act, Hontiveros warned.

Hontiveros earlier suggested the suspension of POGO operations because they “attract criminals” into the country.

On February 12, Hontiveros presented to the media an exploited Taiwanese worker, who was rescued from her POGO employers. The woman said her abusive employers often bragged of having a protector in government by the name of Michael Yang.

Hontiveros said they were checking if this Michael Yang was the same person as President Rodrigo Duterte's ex-economic adviser. 

After Monday's Senate hearing, the BI announced it would investigate the revelations made by Hontiveros, in coordination with the Department of Justice (DOJ) and the senator’s office. 

“Commissioner [Jaime] Morente is deeply alarmed at the exposés of the good Senator Risa Hontiveros during today’s Senate hearing. He has ordered a full-blown investigation to identify those who are possibly part of this syndicate to file both administrative criminal cases against them,” said BI spokesman Dana Krizia Sandoval. 

DOJ spokesman Undersecretary Markk Perete said they would “closely monitor and supervise this investigation to ensure that those responsible will be held to account.” The BI is an agency under the justice department.  Rappler.com

Michelle Abad

Michelle Abad is a researcher-writer at Rappler. Possessing the heart and soul of a feminist, she is working on specializing in women's issues in Newsbreak, Rappler's investigative arm.

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