Senate panel recommends criminal charges vs 26 people over ‘pastillas’ scam

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, January 27) – A Senate committee has recommended the filing of criminal charges against several individuals allegedly behind the “pastillas” bribery scheme at the Bureau of Immigration (BI).

In a 34-page report signed Thursday, the Committee on Women, Children, Family Relations and Gender Equality, led by Senator Risa Hontiveros, named 26 people, including former BI port operations division chief Marc Red Mariñas, who is reportedly among the masterminds of the scam.

The panel sought charges for violation of the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act, as well as the Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Public Officials and Employees.

Eleven senators, including Hontiveros, signed the report.

The others were Senators Pia Cayetano, Nancy Binay, Grace Poe, Imee Marcos, Leila de Lima, Ronald dela Rosa, Win Gatchalian, Ralph Recto, Juan Miguel Zubiri, and Franklin Drilon.

The bribery scheme, first brought to light in early 2020, allegedly allows Chinese nationals to enter the country without background checks in exchange for grease money. The operation was dubbed “pastillas" because the bribe for immigration personnel would be hidden in rolled bond paper similar to a wrapped milk candy.

A whistleblower earlier said around 90% of Immigration personnel were involved in the scam.

Based on the panel report, Mariñas and his father Maynardo Mariñas "cornered" both the kickbacks received from Chinese nationals entering the country through tourist visas and the “visa upon arrival” kickbacks paid to the BI main office by way of tour agencies. The two revenue streams' total is estimated at ₱40 billion.

The following are the 26 individuals named by the committee:

Alleged enforcers and “boss”

- Marc Red Mariñas

- Erwin Ortañez

- Bienlado Guevera

- Arlan Medoza

- Fidel Mendoza

- Jonathan Orozco

- Grifton Medina

Alleged Viber group administrators

- Gabriel Estacio

- Ralph Ryan Garcia

- Phol Villanueva

- Abdul Fahad Calaca

- Danilo Deudor

- Marc Macababad

- Cherie Pie Ricolcol

- Abdulhafez Hadjibasher

- Amboy Lucero

- George Bituin

- Salahudin Pacalda Hadjinoor

Alleged Chinese “suppliers”

- Glenn Ford Comia

- Deon Carlo Albao

- Rodolfo Magbuhos

- Anthony Lopez

- Danieve Binsol

- Dennis Robles

- Bradford Allen So

- German Robin

In addition, the senators recommended the filing of criminal charges against six people over their reported failure to file their Statement of Assets, Liabilities, and Net Worth. They are the Mariñases, Binsol, Medina, Mendoza, and one Dimple Mahyumi Mallari.

The committee noted that the offenses "carry the penalty of permanent disqualification” from holding appointive or elective public office.

Other recommendations

Further investigation on the potential criminal liability of former Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre, who issued the “visa upon arrival” policy and appointed the younger Mariñas, was likewise pushed for by the Senate panel.

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

“He may reasonably be assumed to have known that the consequence of both actions would be to grant the father and son Mariñas near unfettered discretion over the entry of hundreds of thousands of Chinese individuals – not only a potential corruption and conflict of interest issue, but also a national security issue,” the report read.

After investigating the Philippine offshore gaming operators (POGO) industry's impact on women and children, the committee said there is “more than enough” evidence showing that the “near-indiscriminate” entry of Chinese nationals working in POGOs exacerbated prostitution and human trafficking in the country.

In this regard, the senators stressed the need to establish post-raid protocols that would ensure rescued victims are not reintegrated into the sex industry.

They also called for amendments to current laws on trafficking and proposed the forging of bilateral treaties to strengthen protection of foreign women, who are likewise victims of Chinese prostitution dens.

Additionally, the lawmakers called for heavier penalties for electronic service providers and online financial intermediaries that allow their platforms to be used for related illegal activities.