MANILA - Bureau of Immigration personnel who allegedly receive "service fees" or bribes from Chinese nationals who enter the country should face lifestyle checks, Sen. Risa Hontiveros said Tuesday.
"There's a disturbing pattern that seems to be emerging of the abuse of our travel documents, our visas by syndicated Chinese and their kasabwat na Filipino travel agencies and operators," she told ANC's Early Edition.
"And that also leads to the niggling doubt that there may be also collusion from inside the BI, which should be the only holder and guardians of these travel documents."
In a Senate hearing Monday, Hontiveros said Chinese nationals pay P10,000 each to be distributed among Immigration personnel in Manila airports, tour operators and "syndicates" who facilitate their transfer to the Philippine Offshore Gaming Operations (POGO) industry.
The scheme was dubbed "pastillas" as the money was previously rolled up in bond paper, akin to the Filipino milk candy delicacy. The bureau has said it would look into the allegation.
"I don't know which is worse, they're (BI) ignorant of what's being done right under their noses, or collusion," she said.
"Yung 4 na Bureau of Immigration officials there, lahat sila (they all) told me to my face that they don’t know what the 'pastillas' is."
The Chinese nationals get a regular tourist visa but they have an "express lane" upon arrival at the airport, Hontiveros said.
Some 1.8 million Chinese tourists arrived in the country in the past 2 years, she added, estimating that 800,000 entered legally, while 1 million paid "service fees" to immigration personnel.
"It started a few years ago, kasabay ng pag-boom ng POGO industries dito sa atin. Mukhang some form of it was in place earlier pero na-systematize siya," she said.
(It started a few years ago, along with the boom of POGO industries here. It seems some form of it was in place earlier then it was systematized.)
Hontiveros said she has already called for a crackdown on illegal POGOs, while her committee would work on recommendation policies on the gaming industry itself.
"Dapat investments ang dala nila pero may kapalit na unpaid taxes at meron pang dagdag na kapalit na social cost," she told radio DZMM.
(They should be bringing in investments but there's also unpaid taxes and a social cost.)
"Sino ang nagbabayad ng social cost na ito? Ang ating mga kababaihan at kabataan in the form of trafficking and illegal recruitment."
(Who pays for this social cost? Our women and children in the form of trafficking and illegal recruitment.)
Hontiveros earlier presented a 16-year-old Senate witness who said she was tricked into prostitution that caters to Chinese expatriates and POGO workers.
Afterward, a Taiwanese woman also surfaced in the Senate to seek help after she was allegedly trafficked into working for a POGO firm.