The Bureau of Immigration officer who tagged officials and personnel involved in an alleged airport bribery scheme involving Chinese nationals is now in the custody of the Witness Protection Program (WPP), Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra said.
Guevarra identified the officer as Allison Chiong, who testified at a Senate hearing on the “pastillas” scheme, in which Chinese casino high-rollers and offshore gaming operation workers allegedly skip the usual immigration process for a fee.
“We took him in upon the request of Sen. [Risa] Hontiveros and the Senate President [Vicente Sotto III] due to security concerns. He will be evaluated thoroughly by the WPP before he could be considered for full coverage,” Guevarra said.
The Immigration bureau had earlier placed on floating status 19 personnel mentioned in the Senate hearing, following a directive by President Rodrigo Duterte to relieve from their posts the persons allegedly involved in the modus. The bureau is investigating the scheme.
Guevarra ordered the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) investigate the involvement of immigration personnel in “escorting” activities.
At the Senate hearing, Chiong alleged that immigration officers started offering VIP services — in exchange for P2,000 for each high-roller — when the Department of Justice removed their overtime pay in 2012.
Chiong claimed that immigration officers received through Viber, a messaging app, a list of names of Chinese nationals who were to be allowed entry “without question or investigation.”
He said the Viber group was deleted when the NBI started investigating and was replaced with a system where immigration officers brought each Chinese national to a holding area of the travel control and enforcement unit, where the name would be checked with a “master list.”
If the name is on the list, the Chinese national would be allowed entry without further screening or profiling, Chiong claimed.
Senator Risa Hontiveros earlier said around P1 billion may have already been disbursed as kickbacks to corrupt officials as a result of the scheme.
Despite the controversy, President Rodrigo Duterte on Thursday still vouched for the integrity of Immigration Commissioner Jaime Morente.
However, presidential spokesperson Salvador Panelo said Morente is not yet off the hook.
Panelo said that the Cabinet will dicuss Morente’s performance in the next meeting.
Asked if Morente would still face possible sanctions should he be implicated in the bribery controversy, Panelo said, “Yes.”
“Everyone is not off the hook. He will be assessed [regarding his performance],” Panelo said. /Stacy Ang