Hontiveros Reveals Possible Bribery Scheme By Chinese Nationals To Enter The Philippines

Senator Risa Hontiveros exposed a possible bribery scheme in the Bureau of Immigration during a hearing of the Senate Committee on Women, Children, Family Relations and Gender Equality this February 17.

The scheme implicates immigration officers in giving special treatment to Chinese nationals who pay a ‘service fee’ of Php 10,000 as they enter the country. The service fee is said to be paid by Chinese nationals who enter as tourists but intend to stay as workers in the Philippine Offshore Gaming Operations (POGO) industry.

The chairperson of the Senate Committee on Women, Children, Family Relations and Gender Equality based her accusations on an unnamed informant and documentary evidence.

She explained that the service fee is paid to certain travel agencies in China who then distribute it among Immigration personnel in Manila airports, tour operators and “syndicates” facilitating the transfer to POGO sites.

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As proof, Hontiveros showed several Viber screenshots of a group chat of immigration officers. The chat houses long lists of foreigners’ names which are sent each day. If a name is on the list the immigration officer knows to leave his booth and have the foreigner follow them.

The immigration officer then processes the foreign passport for entry on their own. Hontiveros made clear that this was not the standard procedure, as foreigners should be screened at the immigration booths in ports.

Hontiveros presented a video depicting immigration officers escorting Chinese nationals through parts of the Ninoy Aquino International Airport as proof of this.

Hindi standard procedure yan! ‘Wag niyong ide-deny na ang mga nakita natin sa video ay wala lang. Bakit parang may VIP escort itong mga Chinese nationals papasok ng bansa?” she asked.

[“That is not standard procedure! Don’t deny that what we see on video is just nothing. Why does it appear that Chinese nationals arriving in our country have VIP escort?”]

(READ: This is what the Filipino-Chinese Community wants the public to know)

Citing her informant, Hontiveros also explained the breakdown of the service fee. Only Php 2,000 of the fee is doled out to immigration officers on the ground, with a third of it going to the assigned immigration officer.

The remaining Php 8,000 is split among the foreign tour operator, its partner in the Philippines, and the syndicate running the scheme in local airports. A total of Php 1.75 million is alleged to have come from the scheme.

“‘Yong mga Pilipino, ang hirap hirap makapunta sa ibang bansa, pinapahirapan sa immigration. Pero ang sa’tin, parang karinderyang bukas sa lahat?” Hontiveros questioned Immigration and airport officials at the hearing. “Sabi nila, maraming dalang investments itong POGO. Pero imbes na investments, bakit parang naging invasion?”

[“Filipinos find it hard to travel to other countries. The immigration there makes it hard for them. But for us here, we’re like an eatery that’s open for all? They say that POGO brings in a lot of investments. But, why does it seem like an invasion, instead of investments?”]

The operation is referred to as “pastillas” due to the mode of payment. Money was supposedly hidden in rolled-up pieces of bond paper, similar to how the milk candy is wrapped. However, the “pastillas” form of payment has evolved to using pay envelopes for the kickbacks.

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Additionally, it was revealed that Chinese companies provided packed meals for the officers.

Immigration officers present at the hearing denied any involvement in the scheme. “This is the first time I saw this particular breakdown of accounts,” Immigration Port Operations Division acting chief Grifton Medina told the Senate panel.

He explained that airport personnel is shuffled every 45 days to avoid corruption.

“Only 2 things: Nagmamaang-maangan kayo pero alam niyo ang nangyayari or hindi niyo alam ang nangyayari. Either you are complicit or you are negligent. I don’t know which is worse,” Hontivers replied to their denials.

The “pastillas” scheme supposedly ended a few weeks ago, as the Philippine government enforced a travel ban against China, Hong Kong, and Macau.

Hontiveros promised that a Senate hearing to further investigate the issue will follow.

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