By Addison Pascua


Malacañang clarified on Thursday that President Rodrigo Duterte was unaware that the 43 Bureau of Immigration (BI) officials allegedly linked in the so-called pastillas scheme, whom he earlier claimed he fired, are now back in government office.

Presidential spokesman Harry Roque said Duterte might not have informed about the real status of the immigration officers when he vigorously boasted that he had terminated the 43 personnel involved in the scheme during his last State of the Nation Address (SONA) as a manifestation of his drive against corruption in the country.

“Siguro po, obvious ang sagot, hindi po siguro alam ni Presidente hindi pa sila nasisisante. Ang alam lang niya, nasuspende,” Roque stated in a press briefing.

“Pero siguro po, ang epekto ng kaniyang mga binitawang salita, iyan po ay mandato sa DOJ, sa CID, gawin niyo ang lahat para masisante iyan sa lalong mabilis na panahon. Hindi po katanggap-tanggap iyong ginawa nilang pastillas scheme; kinakailangan po talaga sibakin sila,” he added.

Earlier, Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra confirmed these officials were only subjected to six-month suspension without pay and were not actually fired as they had gone back to their work already.

Through the alleged scheme, Chinese nationals were able to invade the country as tourists and later became employees of the Philippine Offshore Gaming Operations (POGO) hubs while paying immigration officers including Chinese and Filipino travel agencies around P10,000 that were wrapped in bond paper like the ‘pastillas’ Filipino milk candy.

“I have yung ‘pastillas’ [scam] sa ano, sa airport. There were 43 personnel involved. I fired them all. Talagang pinaalis ko sa gobyerno,” Duterte said in his SONA that almost lasted three hours.

Since 2017, at least P40 billion have already been pocketed by corrupt immigration officials after facilitating the entry of thousands of Chinese people.

The pastillas scheme was exposed during senate hearings last February 2020 led by Senator Risa Hontiveros.

It may be recalled that combating corruption was one of the promises Duterte assured to the Filipino people in a span of 3 to 6 months after assuming the office of presidency.

However, after five years in office, Duterte obviously failed to fulfill his promise as his administration has been continuously hounded by scandals and allegations involving graft and corruption in all state agencies.

The 2020 Corruption Perception Index from Berlin-based watchdog Transparency International revealed earlier this year that the Philippines ranked 115th out of 180 countries in global corruption index, dropping 2 notches from its 113th rank last 2019.