Ex-airport Immigration boss denies masterminding 'pastillas' scheme

Katrina Domingo, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Oct 20 2020 04:08 PM

Ex-airport Immigration boss denies masterminding 'pastillas' scheme 1
Former Immigration Ports Operation Division (POD) chief Marc Red Mariñas during a hybrid hearing Tuesday, October 20, 2020. Joseph Vidal, Senate PRIB

MANILA - An immigration official accused of masterminding the illegal entry of Chinese workers has denied any involvement on the "pastillas scheme," which supposedly opened the flood gates for uncontrolled entry of Chinese nationals. 

Former Bureau of Immigration Deputy Commissioner Marc Red Mariñas on Tuesday said he was not part of the group of Immigration personnel who allegedly profited from the entry of illegal Chinese workers in the country.

Mariñas was forced to physically attend the Senate Committee on Women, Children, Family Relations and Gender Equality hearing after the panel cited him in contempt for "evading" previous invitations to join the Congressional inquiry.

"I'd like to deny the allegations of Mr. Ignacio that I am the mastermind of this 'pastillas' group," said Mariñas, referring to Immigration Officer Jeffrey Dale Ignacio, one of the 2 whistleblowers of the illegal scheme.

"We are not a perfect organization... [but] we've been doing some efforts when we found those irregularities," he said.

Mariñas has been overseeing Immigration operations in 11 airports nationwide before he resigned in 2018 to run for public office.

Ignacio and another whistleblower - Alex Chiong - earlier alleged that Mariñas and Immgration terminal heads have been allowing Chinese nationals to enter and illegally work in the Philippines in exchange for kickbacks, usually wrapped in paper similar to how "pastillas" - a local milk candy - is packaged.

Ignacio - who admitted to receiving thousands of pesos through the scheme - alleged portions of the kickback was used to fund Mariñas' bid for mayoralty race in Muntinlupa City in 2019.

Mariñas said he has been trying to police "small groups" that have been offering "VIP treatment" for foreign nationals, but claimed that he never benefitted from the scheme.

"May mga small groups na talagang sinusundan namin, na dini-dismantle namin, nire-reassign namin," he said.

"Wala po kaming power para magkaso kaya meron kaming mga nireassign sa border crossings," he said.

Despite his denials, Sen. Risa Hontiveros blamed Mariñas and his father - former Immigration Special Operations and Communications Unit chief Maynardo Mariñas - for opening "the flood gates for the almost uncontrolled entry of Chinese nationals into the country."

The elder Mariñas was in charge of approving the entry of tens of thousands of Chinese nationals through the visa upon arrival scheme before he retired last year.

"The numbers are staggering. For the sake of comparison, 4 million Chinese nationals arriving here since 2017 is comparable to more than the entire population of Quezon City," Hontiveros said in her closing statement.

There were 6.1 million South Koreans, and 2.9 million US citizens who arrived in the Philippines in the same period, according to data from the Department of Tourism. This was not raised during the hearing.

Of the 4 million Chinese nationals who visited the Philippines, 3 million were "believed to have paid the extra P10,000 service fee in the 'pastillas' scam," Hontiveros alleged.

"The rest, nag-VUA na," she said referring to the visa upon arrival system implemented in 2017.

Former Tourism Secretary Wanda Teo pushed for the visa upon arrival scheme for Chinese tourists to increase the number of tourist arrivals from the world's second largest economy, but the policy was halted earlier this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The coronavirus disease was first detected in the Chinese city Wuhan.

Hontiveros plans to schedule more hearing related to the "pastillas" scheme, saying the Senate panel is out to "break" the illegal "business model."

"We will get to the bottom of this. This House of Cards will fall. It is not a matter of if, but when," she said.