By John Victor D. Ordoñez, Reporter
THE COURT of Appeals (CA) has upheld an Ombudsman ruling that found immigration officers guilty of grave misconduct over their involvement in a scheme that extorted money from Chinese nationals in exchange for seamless entry to the country.
In a 28-page decision dated June 29 and made public on July 3, the CA Fifth Division agreed with the Ombudsman’s findings of evidence that showed an elaborate plan to extort money from the Chinese citizens, and testimonies implicating four of the officers.
The accused in the case are five of the 45 immigration officers who were dismissed due to grave neglect of duty and misconduct.
“The testimonies that were based on the immigration officer’s personal knowledge and experience, to the court, constitute reasonable and substantial grounds to believe that they were part of and involved in the pastillas scheme,” the tribunal said.
The rolls of money received by the agents were made to look like a Filipino treat called pastillas, from which the scheme got its name.
One of the officers was found guilty of simple neglect of duty and was sentenced to a six-month suspension without pay.
The court said that while the officer’s participation was not directly mentioned in the testimonies, he failed to perform his duty as his “lackadaisical attitude fell short of the reasonable diligence, due care, and prudence required of him.”
Last year, the Justice department dismissed 18 immigration officers based on its own investigation of the scam.
In 2020, Senator Risa N. Hontiveros-Baraquel led a Senate investigation of the scam. A whistleblower from the Immigration bureau testified at a hearing that the Chinese nationals involved in the scheme had been blacklisted from the country and entered through a “special arrangement.”