‘Unmask travel firms in pastillas syndicate’

Senator Risa Hontiveros on Monday called on the National Bureau of Investigation to unmask the travel agency involved in a new pasillas scam, in which Chinese nationals allegedly paid P550,000 each for a seamless entry into the country.

During an operation conducted by the NBI, the agency entrapped Vivian Lara, a liaison officer who was caught receiving P900,000 to process the papers of three Chinese nationals inside the office of BI prosecutor Arnulfo Maminta.

The Chinese nationals, Lara said, are clients of a travel agency.

“Chinese nationals with criminal records are able to enter the country because of the collusion between this travel agency and corrupt personnel of the BI. I’ve called for a BI overhaul before and this needs to happen now as it seems the new scam features the same cast of characters,” the senator said.

Last year, Hontiveros led a series of Senate investigations on the pastillas scam, revealing that corrupt officials at the BI received P10,000 for every unchecked entry of Chinese nationals.

The senator also previously disclosed that the travel agencies involved in the scam have offered to help Chinese nationals who want to get their names off the BI’s blacklist for a price.

“This is a direct threat to our national security. We’ve already established that Chinese syndicates have exploited our women and children, among many other unspeakable crimes,” she said.

The senator reiterated her call to permanently abolish the Visa Upon Arrival system for Chinese nationals, which she said is what most syndicates use to traffic women into the country.

Meanwhile, a party-list lawmaker has filed a bill that mandates the modernization of the Bureau of Immigration and provides for higher pay for immigration personnel.

Ang Probinsyano party-list Rep. Alfred delos Santos filed House Bill 7680, or the proposed Bureau of Immigration Modernization Act, to address the weakness of the Philippine Immigration Act of 1940 which he said “has rendered itself antiquated and inadequate in the face of technological advancements and realities.”

“BI’s administration and enforcement of immigration, citizenship, and alien admission and registration are still anchored on the provisions of the Philippine Immigration Act of 1940,” said Delos Santos, a deputy majority leader.

“In fact, many provisions have ceased to apply to modern-day conditions and realities and there are still areas which need to be addressed immediately,” he added.

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