Tulfo’s sister pushed for visa on arrival policy for Chinese visitors, ex-DOJ chief Aguirre says

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, March 4)— After being tagged in the controversial “pastillas” scheme, former Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre has claimed that former Tourism Secretary Wanda Teo was the one who consistently pushed for the issuance of the visa upon arrival policy for Chinese visitors.

Aguirre said Teo— sister of columnist Ramon Tulfo who first named him as the “protector” of the airport payoff scheme— followed up “no less than three times” and pushed for the signing of the department’s travel directive.

'Yang pastillas scheme, nangyari 'yan because of the visa upon arrival,” Aguirre told CNN Philippines’ The Source on Wednesday. “Walang ginawa 'yan si Wanda Teo kundi i-follow up 'yan during our Cabinet meeting.]

[Translation: The pastillas scheme happened because of the visa upon arrival. All Wanda Teo did was to follow that up during our Cabinet meetings.]

The move, according to Aguirre, was seen to provide a boost for the Tourism Department, which Teo chaired from 2016 to 2018.

READ: Tourism Secretary Wanda Tulfo-Teo resigns 'out of delicadeza'

Teo has denied the allegations, saying she only talked to Aguirre once for a review of the policy documents.

“Is asking for documents submitted to his office for his review and appropriate action means being linked to the Immigration scheme?” Teo said in a message to CNN Philippines.

Aguirre, however, admitted he found nothing wrong with the visa scheme, hinting that flaws were found only in the implementation.

“Per se, hindi masama 'yan. It was only in the implementation na sumama 'yan (per se, it’s not bad. It was only in the implementation that it was seen to be flawed),” Aguirre added.

The Justice Department in 2017 issued Circular No. 41, which would grant the entry document to Chinese nationals. The Immigration’s VUA order, however, has been temporarily suspended amid the outbreak of the novel coronavirus disease in the East Asian nation.

Teo stepped down as Tourism chief in May 2018, saying the move was done "out of delicadeza" following issues of corruption. Her resignation came in the wake of a controversial ₱60 million advertising deal between the Tourism Department and a television program run by her other brothers, Ben and Erwin Tulfo.

RELATED: Ex-Tourism Secretary Wanda Teo, Usec took P2.5 million-worth of Duty Free goods - COA report

Aguirre, on the other hand, has repeatedly denied involvement and knowledge of the “pastillas” scheme, which allows the easy entry of Chinese nationals in the country.

The said payoff scheme supposedly lets the foreign nationals pay a ₱10,000 service fee or grease money to Immigration officers, with a special treatment expected in return. The operation was dubbed as "pastillas" as money was previously hidden in rolled bond paper, similar to that of a milk candy wrapper.