JUSTICE Secretary Menardo Guevarra yesterday said that corruption in the Bureau of Immigration may have become prevalent because of the law salary grade of personnel.
“Salary grades at the BI have not been upgraded for decades, and this is probably one reason why rackets and other acts of corruption have remained prevalent in that agency.”
“But low pay is not a valid reason to break the law, and those who smear the dignity of their public office will continue to be vigorously investigated and prosecuted,” Guevarra said.
Guevarra issued the statement after Sen. Risa Hontiveros disclosed that corrupt immigration officers have pocketed some P40 billion in bribe money since 2017 from the ‘Pastillas Scheme’ by facilitating the entry of Chinese nationals or assisting the departure of trafficked people at the airport.
She added that the scheme generated some P30 billion in kickbacks from 3.8 million Chinese arrivals shared among officers at the BI and P2 billion in bribes from Chinese tourists under the visa-upon-arrival (VUA) racket.
The rest was reportedly earned through payola for the hassle-free departure of trafficked people, she added.
But Guevarra expressed doubts over such staggering amount, saying monetary figures from corruption remains ‘”n the realm of possibilities” because they were being done behind closed doors.
“Bribery and corruption (such as the ‘pastillas’ scheme), by their very nature, are often done clandestinely and without any paper trail, so estimates as to their magnitude remain in the realm of mere possibilities.”
“However, a fair indicator of such magnitude, though not necessarily conclusive, is the lifestyle being led by people suspected of these wrongdoings, in relation to their regular compensation as government employees,” Guevarra said.
The so-called Pastillas scheme hogged the headlines when it was revealed that Chinese travelers can seamlessly enter the country in exchange for bribes
Under the pastillas racket, a Chinese citizen pays a P10,000 “service fee” – P2,000 of which will allegedly be shared among officials of the BI’s Travel Control and Enforcement Unit (TCEU), duty Immigration supervisor, and terminal heads.
The remaining P8,000 will then be given to tour operators and syndicates who will transport the Chinese from the airport to Pogo facilities.
It was also earlier disclosed during the previous congressional hearings that blacklisted Chinese fugitives would pay as much as P200,000 to “freely” enter the country
The National Bureau of Investigation has filed a complaint against 20 BI personnel in connection with the “pastillas” scam before the Office of the Ombudsman.
They were charged with violations under Sections 3(a) and 3(j) of RA 3019 or the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act.