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'Pastillas' whistleblower now under witness protection program

'Pastillas' whistleblower now under witness protection program
By Benjamin Pulta
MANILA — Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra on Friday said Allison Chiong, the whistleblower in the 'pastillas' protection racket, is now under the Witness Protection Program (WPP) and will undergo further evaluation on whether he can be a state witness.

"We took him in upon the request of Sen. (Risa) Hontiveros and the Senate President (Vicente Sotto III) due to security concerns. He will be evaluated thoroughly by the WPP before he could be considered for full coverage," Guevarra said in a message to reporters.

Chiong, a frontline immigration officer, said current and past Bureau of Immigration (BI) officials received anywhere between PHP8,000 to PHP20,000 from Chinese travelers entering through the Ninoy Aquino International Airport and eventually work in Philippine Offsite Gaming Operators (POGO).

Corrupt immigration officials received as high as PHP200,000 for Chinese travelers who had records which would have barred them from entering the country, Chiong said.

Appearing before the Senate Committee on Women, Children, Family Relations, and Gender Equality, Chiong, who holds the position as Immigration Officer I since 2012, said he has “personally witnessed various illegal transactions over the years involving extortion money in exchange of unimpeded passage through the Philippines, whether leaving or entering the country.”

He said the money-making scheme was being led by airport immigration officials and involves at least 90 percent of immigration personnel.

In his affidavit read before the Senate panel, Chiong said immigration personnel started with the money-making scheme to offset lost earnings when the Department of Justice (DOJ) removed the overtime pay of all immigration officers in 2016.

To cope with the substantial deduction of their salaries, he said some immigration officers decided to offer “VIP services” to immigrants who are casino high-rollers, accepting PHP2,000 for each high-roller in exchange for the latter’s “convenient and seamless immigration.”

Chiong said the “lucrative operations” were later taken over by former BI-Travel Control Enforcement Unit (TCEU) chiefs Bien Guevarra, Glenn Comia, and Den Binsol, who were then all under Red Mariñas, former chief of the BI Ports Operation Division.

He said Guevarra, Comia, and Binsol were relieved from their former posts in the middle of 2019 but still maintain the syndicate group’s operations.

On the other hand, Mariñas was assigned as BI associate commissioner but later resigned to run as mayor of Muntinlupa City.

Soon, “other syndicated groups” in the BI joined in the money-making scheme and began submitting their own list of Chinese tourists who would also want to avail of easy entry with a fee.

Chiong identified the heads of the “other syndicated groups” as Totoy Magbuhos, Deon Albao, Paul Borja, Anthony Lopez, and Dennis Robles, whom he said occupy various plantilla positions within the BI.

The money-making scheme was dubbed “pastillas” as payoffs were rolled in bond papers resembling a Philippine milk candy delicacy.

“Each cooperating immigration officer would receive around PHP20,000 weekly for Terminal 1 duties and PHP8,000 weekly for Terminal 3 duties... Someone among the group would shout ‘It’s pastillas time!’ each time the money is already divided,” Chiong said, and admitted that he has also been receiving "pastillas".

Chiong said he was compelled to expose the illegal activities after watching the Senate's inquiry on the rise of POGO-related prostitution in the Philippines.

He said Senate President Vicente Sotto III has also guaranteed to grant whistleblowers immunity from cases. (PNA)

'Pastillas' whistleblower now under witness protection program 'Pastillas' whistleblower now under witness protection program Reviewed by AsianPolicy.Press on 12:43:00 AM Rating: 5

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