The Bureau of Immigration drew outrage from the public after a racket called “Pastillas” favoring the arrival of Chinese nationals was revealed at a Senate hearing.
Sen. Risa Hontiveros showed a video of this corrupt scheme to the Senate committee on women, children, family relations, and gender equality.
In the video, which the senator also shared on social media, the Chinese nationals were shown being escorted by an immigration officer to the agency’s inner office while another officer validates each foreigner’s identity.
“Bakit parang ginawang welcome committee ng mga POGO (Philippine Offshore Gaming Operators) workers ang ating sariling immigration officers?” the caption read.
Hontiveros called these officers “traitors to the country” in another post.
“Traydor sa bayan! Hindi pwedeng nagiging pugad tayo ng krimen dahil ginawa nang welcome committee ang Bureau of Immigration natin ng mga Chinese nationals na karaniwan ay POGO workers,” she said.
Traydor sa bayan! Hindi pwedeng nagiging pugad tayo ng krimen dahil ginawa nang welcome committee ang Bureau of Immigration natin ng mga Chinese nationals na karaniwan ay POGO workers.
During the hearing, Hontiveros explained that it was named “pastillas” because the money being distributed to the officials was wrapped like the milk-based delicacy.
“I asked why it’s called pastillas. Before, there were no envelopes and that’s why they rolled it on a bond paper like a pastillas,” she said in Filipino.
Such corrupt practice was denounced as unfair to Filipinos, particularly to overseas workers who spent time and effort in fulfilling immigration requirements.
Others said that this could be the reason for the sudden boom of the offshore gaming industry in the country.
“Perhaps that’s why some POGO workers think and act like they are above the law. Coming in, they know they can buy their way out of anything,” one Twitter user said.
According to Hontiveros, foreigners bribe immigration officers at least P10,000 worth of cash to have a seamless entry to the country.
This amount would be evenly distributed to airport immigration personnel from the duty immigration supervisor to the terminal head.
An infographic of this breakdown was also shared on social media on February 18.
Sa 10,000 pesos na ‘service fee’ galing sa bawat Chinese POGO worker, 2,000 pesos ang napupunta sa ating mga airport…
“If we say that 1 million are coming inside the country using the ‘pastillas’ system, P1 billion is paid for kickback,” Hontiveros told the Senate committee.
The Senate panel launched an investigation into the alleged abuses on POGO workers after it learned of several reports that some Chinese and Taiwanese workers trafficked in the Philippines by these firms were rescued by authorities.
Connecting the dots to rise of POGOs
Hontiveros previously accompanied a Taiwanese woman named Lai Yu Cian, who told reporters that she was trafficked into working for a POGO firm backed by a “very powerful” government official.
She identified this official as Michael Yang, whom she claimed as one of her employers’ “very powerful” protector.
“I heard about once or twice when my supervisor got mad at me, they mention Michael Yang… He didn’t explain to me. He just shouts that at me,” Cian said.
The senator’s office has yet to verify if Yang was the same person who works as President Rodrigo Duterte’s former consultant.
The Chinese businessman’s involvement with the government was highly criticized before due to Palace’s wavering responses to the media on Yang’s role. He was supposedly paid only P1 for his services.
Aside from human trafficking accusations, POGO firms are also under fire after the Anti-Money Laundering Council found out that they owe P50 billion worth of unpaid taxes to the government in the form of franchise, corporate and other taxes.