Duterte vouches for Immigration chief amid ‘pastillas’ bribery scandal

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, February 20) — President Rodrigo Duterte affirmed Thursday his trust for Immigration chief Jaime Morente whose bureau is embroiled in an alleged scandal which has supposedly granted Chinese nationals easy entry into the country for a fee.

Si Morente, mahal ko ‘yan kasi chief of police ‘yan dito (Davao City), mabait ‘yan,” Duterte said in a speech before graduates of the Public Safety Officers Basic Course and the Public Safety Officers Advance Course in Davao City.

[Translation: I love Morente because he was the chief of police here, he’s kind.]

Duterte, however, suggested that Morente was unable to act on the alleged bribery scheme — called “pastillas” after the rolls of money Immigration officials supposedly receive from Chinese nationals.

Hindi niya kaya, sabi ko sa kanya. Limitado rin kasi,” the President said.

[Translation: He couldn't do it, I told him. There are limits as well.]

He said he has relieved officials allegedly involved in the bribery scandal and ordered Morente to file charges against them so they will eventually be dismissed.

Immigration spokesperson Dana Sandoval said they have removed 18 employees from their posts, which comes days after the Senate investigation that exposed the alleged payoff scheme that gives Chinese nationals easy access into the country.

During the third Senate probe on the issue, an immigration officer revealed Chinese nationals pay ₱10,000 as “service fee” or grease money for a special entry treatment. The grease money is higher for Chinese fugitives, whistleblower and Immigration Officer Allison "Alex" Chiong told a Senate body.

Once the Chinese national arrives, the immigration officer on duty would leave his booth and tell the foreigner to follow him to an office, where the visitor's passport is processed for entry. This is a departure from the standard practice where all foreigners are screened through immigration booths in ports. Fugitives would be allowed entry without even scanning their passports to avoid arrest, Chiong said.

Sandoval said Tuesday that five immigration officials assigned at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport have been relieved pending investigation on the "pastillas" scheme, which she expects to last 15 days. She also said that the probe could be expanded to cover other international airports.

Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo said the “pastillas” scheme and the manner by which Morente is running the bureau will be discussed in the next Cabinet meeting.