MANILA - Bureau of Immigration (BI) Commissioner Jaime Morente ordered an investigation into the alleged bribery scheme involving immigration officials and Chinese workers in the Philippine Offshore Gaming Operations (POGO) industry.
Morente created a fact-finding committee to look into the so-called "pastillas" scheme.
The committee, led by Deputy Commissioner J. Tobias Javier, is given 15 days to investigate and submit a report.
The alleged bribery scheme was revealed on Monday by Sen. Risa Hontiveros.
Citing an unnamed informant, Hontiveros said each Chinese national pays an additional P10,000 to travel agencies in China, to be distributed among Immigration personnel in Manila airports, tour operators and "syndicates" who facilitate the transfer to POGO sites.
It's been dubbed "pastillas" modus because the cash is rolled in bond papers as with the milk candy Filipino delicacy.
“I am deeply alarmed hearing reports from the good Senator Risa Hontiveros that this escorting modus is still persistent in our airports,” Morente said.
He also said he will be coordinating with Hontiveros to request more information about the issue.
“We are not taking this lightly. We have spent the last four years implementing reforms to clean up the system. For the past year, we have denied the entry of 7,724 foreign nationals in our intensified drive against undesirable aliens. This issue is a major blow to the Bureau and to our efforts,” the immigration chief said.
Morente said he has implemented an immediate total revamp of airport personnel, terminal heads, and travel control and enforcement unit heads following the allegations.
He also gave the assurance that those behind the scheme will be penalized.
“We will not take this sitting down. As seen in past cases against erring personnel, we will not hesitate to impose harsh penalties to those who are found to be committing corrupt practices,” Morente said.
Hontiveros' committee has been investigating alleged abuses committed by Chinese-run POGO firms in the country, including alleged prostitution cases in the Philippines.
Several thousands of Chinese nationals have been employed in POGOs in recent years.
China wants the Philippine government to "punish" casinos and offshore gaming firms that illegally employ its nationals here, adding that its operations abet crimes such as kidnapping and money-laundering.
Chinese law bans its citizens from engaging in "any form of gambling" including online and those that are based overseas but cater to Chinese nationals, China's embassy in Manila said in a statement last year.