Duterte shields Morente as BI battles corruption allegations

Arianne Merez, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Feb 20 2020 09:03 PM | Updated as of Feb 21 2020 03:43 PM

MANILA - President Rodrigo Duterte vouched for the integrity of Immigration Commissioner Jaime Morente on Thursday amid allegations of corruption in the bureau supposedly involving personnel assigned at the airport.

Duterte said he “loves” Morente—who once headed the Davao Police regional office—even as the chief executive admitted that there are limitations to the former police officer’s capabilities.

“Kahapon I terminated all kay [Bureau of Immigration Commissioner Jaime] Morente. Apparently, si Morente, ano mahal ko yan kasi chief of police siya dito,” the President said in a speech during a course graduation ceremony of police officers in Davao City.

(Yesterday, I terminated everyone under Morente. I love Morente because he was chief of police here.)

“Mabait yan. Hindi niya (Morente) kaya, limitado pa rin kasi ano…” he added.

(He is nice. He can’t do it, there are still limitations)

Immigration personnel at the airport were accused of accepting bribes from Chinese nationals who enter the country as tourists but actually work in the country's offshore gaming industry.

Earlier in the day, Malacañang announced that Duterte relieved all Immigration officers and employees who were involved in the so-called “pastillas” scheme, in which the bribe money is rolled inside a paper as with the Filipino milk-based candy.

The President said he wanted the relieved officials to be sacked soon.

“Yung lahat sa NAIA, file-an mo ng kaso tapos pinaalis ko na with the end view of dismissal,” he said.

(File cases against everyone in NAIA. I already relieved them with the end view of dismissal.)

The “pastillas” modus was revealed by opposition Sen. Risa Hontiveros in a Senate inquiry earlier this week, saying Chinese nationals who enter the Philippines as tourists and later work in POGO hubs pay immigration personnel and Chinese and Filipino travel agencies P10,000.

Following the revelation, Morente created a fact-finding committee to look into the bribery claims.

Duterte’s spokesman Salvador Panelo had said that Morente’s leadership of the immigration bureau will be discussed in the next Cabinet meeting and until the President says so, the immigration commissioner enjoys the trust of the chief executive.