MANILA (UPDATE) — Bureau of Immigration personnel tagged in the controversial "pastillas" scam are now back on duty and were not fired, Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra confirmed Wednesday, contrary to President Rodrigo Duterte's statement.
“No, they were not fired or dismissed, precisely because the investigation of their cases is still going on,” Guevarra said in a message to reporters.
Duterte said during his State of the Nation Address on Monday that he fired 43 Immigration personnel involved in a scheme where Chinese citizens were allowed into the country in exchange for money.
Under the scheme, the Chinese enter the Philippines as tourists and later work for Philippine Offshore Gaming Operations (POGO) hubs, paying immigration personnel around P10,000.
They allegedly pay immigration personnel and Chinese and Filipino travel agencies P10,000 in grease money rolled in bond paper, like the "pastillas" delicacy.
“I have ‘yung "pastillas" [scam] sa ano, sa airport. There were 43 personnel involved. I fired them all. Talagang pinaalis ko sa gobyerno. Nagbalot pa nga ako ng pera sa pastillas. Sabi ko kay --- ‘Magbalot ka, lagyan mo ng pera kay ito ang ipakain ko sa kanila,’” the chief executive said half-way through his nearly three-hour long State of the Nation Address on Monday.
(I fired them all and I removed them from the government. I told them to roll these paper bills and eat their money)
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DISMISSAL ONLY AFTER ‘CAUSE’
But Guevarra explained why the President could not have fired the personnel outright.
“Most of the respondents are permanent employees covered by CSC [Civil Service Commission] rules. They will be dismissed only if found guilty,” he said.
“Under existing CSC rules, dismissal from service may be imposed for dishonesty and other major administrative offenses. Both the OMB and the DOJ may exercise that disciplinary power after giving the respondents their day in court,” he explained.
Guevarra confirmed the Department of Justice (DOJ) could fire permanent Bureau of Immigration employees but only after finding cause under CSC rules.
“It’s the DOJ who appoints Immigration officers under the Commonwealth Act that established our Immigration agency. We have disciplined so many immigration officers in the past for administrative offenses,” he said.
In contrast, personnel who are on job-order basis only may be terminated immediately, the justice chief said, adding that for this case, those who were under job-order arrangements have all been terminated.
WHAT WENT BEFORE
By November last year, the National Bureau of Investigation had filed 86 corruption complaints with the Office of the Ombudsman following a Senate inquiry led by Sen. Risa Hontiveros.
Forty-four Immigration personnel were initially suspended in October last year while a total of at least 83 were reportedly preventively suspended by December.
Preventive suspension is not a penalty but is standard during the investigation of cases to prevent interference in probes.
It can only last for 6 months.
Guevarra confirmed the suspended personnel have finished serving their suspension.
“The 6-month preventive suspension of BI personnel allegedly involved in the so-called 'pastillas' scheme has already lapsed,” he said.
“However, the preliminary investigation being conducted by the OMB [Ombudsman] is still going on. So is the administrative proceedings being conducted by the DOJ,” he explained.
Asked about their status, Guevarra said the BI personnel “have returned to the main office but most of them have not been given assignments while their cases remain pending.”
Guevarra stressed that the previously suspended BI personnel went back to their administrative service posts at the BI main office in Intramuros. They were only detailed to the airport before the pastillas scam broke out.
Immigration Spokesperson Dana Krixia Sandoval confirmed the status of the BI personnel.
“Following standard procedures on personnel with administrative cases, they have resumed reporting for duty, but have been assigned in admin offices with back-end and non-sensitive positions, pending the resolution of the cases filed against them under the DOJ, NBI, and the Office of the Ombudsman,” she said in a statement on Wednesday.
Guevarra said it will now be up to the immigration commissioners if they want to give them new assignments.
Asked about a particular Immigration officer, Guevarra said Grifton Medina has not been reinstated at the Ports Operations Division.
Medina was the highest-ranking Immigration official tagged in the scam, who denied having knowledge.
However, a document obtained by ABS-CBN News shows Guevarra himself, on May 17, 2021, re-designated Medina as acting chief of the BI Personnel Section, in addition to his previous duty as head of the Committee on Good Governance.
Guevarra confirmed signing the document.
“That’s his position before his suspension. He simply went back to it. But I did not re-assign him as OIC head for the Ports Operations Division. I assigned someone else to handle airport operations,” he explained.