BI chief vows to investigate ‘escort’ racket at airports

February 18 ------ Bureau of Immigration (BI) Commissioner Jaime Morente vowed to get to the bottom of the facilitated escort racket exposed by Sen. Risa Hontiveros Monday morning. Hontiveros, who chairs the Senate committee on women, children, family relations, and gender equality, presented shots of alleged conversations among immigration officers (IOs), with names of Chinese nationals whose entry they reportedly facilitated through the so-called “pastillas” (bribe) scheme.

“I am deeply alarmed, hearing reports from the good senator, that this escorting modus is still persistent in our airports,” Morente said. “I have ordered a full-blown investigation to know if such corrupt practices still exist, and to find out who are possibly part of this syndicate to file both administrative and criminal cases against them.” Morente said he will immediately coordinate with Hontiveros’s office to request more information regarding the scheme.

The BI chief said he is not taking the issue lightly, adding that the bureau’s management has been spending the last four years implementing reforms to clean up the system, as evidences the barring of the entry of more than 7,700 foreign nationals in the intensified crackdown against unwanted aliens. Morente said he has already requested the Department of Justice (DOJ) and the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) to investigate alleged malpractices at airports.

In fact, he said the NBI has been instructed last month by the DOJ to conduct a case buildup on the “alleged involvement of BI officials and personnel in human trafficking and escort services.” “This is a welcome probe as we are one with the DOJ in our goal of cleaning up our ranks,” Morente said. According to Morente, during his entire administration, the BI has dismissed and suspended at least 70 BI men for various offenses, while more than 200 cases have been filed against erring personnel. Morente said he has already issued a directive creating a fact-finding committee, led by Deputy Commissioner J. Tobias Javier, to conduct an investigation and submit a report to his office within 15 days. He disclosed that as a result of the expose, he has ordered the total revamp of airport personnel, terminal heads, and travel control and enforcement unit heads. “We will not hesitate to impose harsh penalties [on] those who are found to be committing corrupt practices,” he warned.