Philippines BIR accused of selling passports to Chinese POGO workers


In a probe that becomes more disturbing with each new revelation, it is now being alleged by Philippines Senator Risa Hontiveros that Bureau of Immigration (BI) employees were likely selling Philippines passports to Chinese nationals, allowing them easy access to enter the country.

philippines-bir-accused-of-selling-passports-to-chinese-pogo-workersPassports, birth certificates, and bank accounts were up for sale, according to Hontiveros in a recent Senate hearing. BI officials also offered “de-listing from blacklists and airport release if barred entry” to Chinese tourists that were planning on traveling to the Philippines. She provided captured screenshots of advertisements offering the service as evidence.

“They can even give Philippine passports to Chinese tourists… Obviously, these are criminal acts. Two agencies are advertising these criminal services freely,” the senator said.

Hontiveros has been outspoken in her call to investigate the BI. She has pointed out a number of highly questionable behaviors and information presenting the likelihood of corruption. This includes her pointing to a Salary Grade 13 employee, earning approximately PHP 24,000 a month ($472), reporting a net worth of PHP 5 million ($98,000) and able to fund a run for the mayor of Muntinlupa City in both 2018 and 2019.

Another employee, Fidel Mendoza, was working as a security guard, a salary grade 11 employee who is paid P11,000 per month ($216), yet had a registered net worth of P7.8 million ($150,000). The Senator pointed out that this is a classic example of corruption where the “net worth that does not reflect the salary grade.”

During a recent hearing Hontiveros questioned officials from the Empire Travel Agency over their influence with the BI. Informants had alleged that Empire’s boss Liya Wu had been “very generous” to immigration employees by giving them gifts, allegations that Wu denied.

The BI has faced heavy criticism in recent weeks, largely due to its alleged involvement in the “pastillas” scheme, which allowed Chinese nationals to enter the country illegally and gain employment at Philippine Offshore Gaming Operators (POGO). The outcome of these revelations have been further bad press for an industry that didn’t need any more. Pressured by the scandals, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte recently fired all officials and employees at the BI found to be involved in these schemes.

Tourism director Rowena Montecillo promised further investigation and the Department of Tourism will now review travel agencies to see if they have been offering illegal services to Chinese migrants and tourists.