MANILA — President Rodrigo Duterte met with several Immigration officers accused of corruption and told them to swallow rolled wads of cash, his spokesman said Tuesday.
Duterte on Monday summoned to the Malacañang Palace around 40 Immigration personnel, who were all suspended or facing charges due to the "pastillas" scam, said Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque.
The scam allegedly allows the illegal entry of Chinese nationals or the departure of trafficked people at the airport. It is named after grease money rolled up in paper, resembling the local milk candy.
A "calm" Duterte instructed an aide to give a "pastillas" containing cash of unknown amount to each Immigration officer in the meeting, said Roque.
"Matapos po mabigyan ng tigi-tigisang pastillas, ang sabi ng Presidente e kainin n'yo iyan dahil iyan po ay may pera," Roque told reporters.
(After giving a pastillas to each of them, Duterte told them to eat it because it contained cash.)
"Pero hindi naman po nagpilit ang Presidente kasi nga po na nandoon daw si Secretary of Justice Menardo Guevarra at ang sabi niya baka ako makasuhan," Duterte's spokesman added.
(But the President did not insist because Justice Secretary Menardo Geuvarra was there and he said I could face a case.)
None of the officers opened the pastillas, he said.
Roque denied that the stint was just for show.
"The President is sending a message: itigil ang (stop the) corruption," he said.
In 2016, Duterte won the presidency campaigning on a promise to fight corruption, crime and illegal drugs.
But his administration has been dogged by scandals and allegations of graft and cover-ups in state agencies ranging from prisons, the state insurer, airports and customs, to police and the drugs enforcement agency, few of which led to convictions or high-profile resignations.
Last month, Duterte issued a memorandum directing the justice department to look into anomalies at state agencies until the end of his term in 2022. It gives the ministry the power to decide what allegations to investigate and to work with other agencies.
"This country continues to be plagued with corruption," Duterte said in a televised national address. "Up to now, it is not weakening, it is getting stronger," he said, vowing to focus his remaining term on fighting corruption.
The Philippines fell 14 notches to 113th spot among 180 countries in Transparency International's Corruption Perceptions Index last year.
Duterte is not eligible for re-election, but fulfilling his campaign pledge on corruption could help the chances of his chosen successor in the 2022 elections.
— With a report from Reuters