Ombudsman indicts dozens of Immigration officers over 'pastillas' scam

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, June 7) — The Office of the Ombudsman has indicted at least 40 individuals, mostly immigration officers, involved in the "pastillas" bribery scam.

Among those charged for violating of the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act was former Immigration deputy commissioner Marc Red Mariñas, previously tagged as the mastermind of the scam.

READ: Red Mariñas denies being ‘pastillas’ scheme mastermind

In a document released to the media on Tuesday, the Ombudsman said the accused people "allowed the entry of foreign passengers into the country without going through regular and stringent profiling or screening processes in violation of existing immigration rules and procedures to the prejudice of the government and public interest."

Uncovered in early 2020, the bribery scheme allegedly provided an advantage to foreign travelers, especially Chinese nationals, to enter the Philippines without conducting background checks in exchange for money—rolled up using bond paper, giving the scheme the name "pastillas".

Based on the charge sheet, Chinese suppliers "acted as conduits between the travel agencies and the Immigration officers (IOs) manning the Immigration counters at NAIA Terminals 1 and 2."

The document also disclosed the presence of Viber chat groups operated by immigration personnel, which were used to cascade client lists. Immigration officers would then check if the passengers who appeared before them "should be accorded seamless entry and/or VIP treatment."

Authorities identified 143 foreign nationals, with each shelling out ₱10,000, it said.

"The bosses or Chinese supplier receive the regular pay-outs from travel agencies usually wrapped like the local candy pastillas, and then caused the distribution of the shares to the pastillas to the different members of the scheme," the document read.

It said that there is "a sufficient ground to engender a well-founded belief that the crime charged has been committed; and, that the accused are probably guilty thereof and should be held for trial."

Bail has been set at ₱90,000 each.

The charges were approved by Ombudsman Samuel Martires.