Former Justice Secretary Vitalano Aguirre has been named as the alleged godfather of the so-called “pastillas” scheme, in which immigration officials reportedly received bribes for facilitating the entry of Chinese workers into the Philippines.
Broadcaster Ramon Tulfo made the accusation today during a Senate hearing based on information provided to him by Allison Chiong, an immigration officer-turned-whistleblower. Aguirre has since denied the allegations.
“Based on what was told to me by Mr. Chiong, he is the protector of the syndicate, former Secretary Aguirre,” Tulfo told the Senate. Tulfo added that Aguirre’s commission from the scheme was flown via helicopter to his house in Mulanay, Quezon. Tulfo also alleged that Aguirre — not Bureau of Immigration (BI) Commissioner Jaime Morente — was actually responsible for the hiring and firing of all the bureau’s officers.
This, Tulfo said, explains why Marc Red Mariñas and his father, Maynardo Mariñas, were both working in the BI. Marc Red is the former head of the ports division who said that he was not aware that there was a bribery scheme going on back in 2016.
Marc Red also said that the undercover video submitted by Chiong, which shows an immigration officer appearing to check the name of a Chinese national against a list of people who supposedly paid bribes, had been twisted by the whistleblower to make it appear that there was something untoward taking place. It was Chiong who accused Marc Red of overseeing the pastillas scheme, so-called because the bribes were wrapped in paper like the milk-based confections.
“[It’s] very obvious. Why would you assign a father-and-son team in immigration, holding key positions?” said Tulfo.
In a message sent to CNN Philippines, Aguirre denied being the scheme’s protector and said that he would write to Senator Risa Hontiveros, who heads the investigation, to allow him to join future hearings so he can defend himself against accusations.
“The charge of Ramon Tulfo is an absolute lie and a complete fabrication,” Aguirre said. “For repeating these falsities, I will write the Senate committee of Senator Hontiveros to invite me and Tulfo if there is any future hearing so I could refute them and tell Tulfo to his face that he is a liar… I could face anybody for I am completely innocent of his charges.”
Hontiveros is on a campaign to shut down Philippine offshore gaming operations (more commonly known as POGOs, and largely staffed by Chinese nationals), which have been blamed for a spike in crimes, most notably prostitution. Last month, Hontiveros presented a Taiwanese woman who was allegedly trafficked into the country to work in a POGO, where she was allegedly sexually harassed by her employers.