From pastillas to trafficking

From pastillas to trafficking

If they are allowing the illegal entry of aliens into the country for a fee, it’s not surprising that at least 28 personnel of the Bureau of Immigration are now under investigation on accusations of involvement in human trafficking. At least two of the BI employees implicated in the so-called pastillas scam have been linked to the trafficking of 44 Filipino women to Syria, allegedly earning $10,000 per person.

The pastillas scam, which allowed the illegal entry on tourist visas of Chinese workers in Philippine offshore gaming operator or POGO firms, is alleged to have earned for the perpetrators a whopping P40 billion.

Corruption in the BI is engendering other problems. Last Tuesday at a virtual hearing of the Senate’s committee on women, children, family relations and gender equality, one of the women trafficked to Syria on 30-day tourist visas testified that her recruiter even forced her to have an abortion upon learning that she was in the early stages of pregnancy. She was then made to accept a salary of $200 per month in Syria after being promised $400 for a job in Dubai.

President Duterte had summoned to Malacañang over 40 of the 86 BI employees now facing charges in connection with the pastillas scheme. He gave them money rolled up in paper like the native pastry after which the scam was named, but did not make good on his threat to make the employees eat the fake pastillas.

It’s uncertain if public shaming works on those who shamelessly steal from the people or amass wealth illegally. Last year in another Senate hearing, it was revealed that one of those implicated in the pastillas scam and now the human trafficking to Syria, Fidel Mendoza, had a net worth of P7.8 million even if he held the position of security guard II in the BI. Mendoza was reported to be the right hand man of Marc Red Mariñas, former BI deputy commissioner accused of being the pastillas mastermind.

Beyond shaming those accused of corruption, the best deterrent to wrongdoing in the BI is swift punishment. Prosecution, conviction and the beginning of punishment must be completed within a time frame that allows people to remember the crime, and see that the offenders were not allowed to get away with it.