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DOJ vows to uncover BI execs behind visas for bogus companies

Justice Secretary Jesus Crispin Remulla
Vito Barcelo

Justice Secretary Jesus Remulla on Tuesday said his office will look into the accountability of past and present officials in the Bureau of Immigration (BI) who approved thousands of applications for visas from bogus companies.

Remulla, in a press briefing, said the visas were issued to applicants from fake corporations and sole proprietorships. Information about the anomalies was brought to the DOJ’s attention this month.

“As a matter of policy, I’m asking the BI not to grant any more visas to sole proprietorships but only to corporations that have the stamp of approval of the SEC (Securities and Exchange Commission),” he said.

Remulla said initial findings showed that a number of corporations that were petitioning for 9G visas are fake corporations or non-entities.

“I ordered an investigation as far back as five years ago,” he said in Filipino. “It is an affront to our sovereignty that these people have been issuing all of these [visas] to them. Many of them are used for POGOs (Philippine offshore gaming operators),” he added.

“We’re talking about more than 500 corporations and thousands and thousands of visas issued with the petition of these corporations, which had been presumed validated by the legal department and the visa issuing authority of the Bureau of Immigration. It’s just the tip of the iceberg. I will be asking for a fuller investigation,” the DOJ chief said.

Remulla noted that the applications from the corporations did not undergo further scrutiny by the concerned officials.

“The corporations’ [applications] were accepted hook, line and sinker without any validation. Meaning to say probably (they are ) in cahoots because you are talking about due diligence as a matter of government policy in every transaction.”

Remulla, meanwhile, reiterated his position to allow a private third party entity to take over the issuance of visas, as other countries have done.

The Bureau of Immigration (BI), meanwhile, said it is looking to conduct an audit of visas issued within the last five years to unmask more foreigners who have been petitioned by fake companies.

In a statement Wednesday, Immigration Commissioner Norman Tansingco said the over 400 foreigners who have been blacklisted by the agency in November last year for being petitioned by fake companies are just “the tip of the iceberg.”

“Once we discovered the scheme, we immediately informed the Department of Justice (DOJ) who approved our recommendations. As such, we have reorganized the visa-issuance procedures. There has been a massive replacement from top to bottom, including the procedures in accepting, reviewing, assessing, up until the issuing of the visas,” the BI chief said, adding that the number of foreigners involved may even reach 1,000.

Last year, the BI reported to the DOJ the blacklisting of 459 aliens after the audit of its verification and compliance division (VCD) revealed that they have been using fake companies in their 9G visa application.

A 9G pre-arranged employment visa is a requisite for foreign nationals working in the Philippines.

Tansingco said they expect to blacklist more foreigners once the probe has been completed.

“During our initial investigation, at least 40 travel agencies and liaison officers are suspected of being involved in the scheme, and we reported to the Secretary of Justice a total of 116 employers found to be fake,” he added.

Tansingco said they have also recommended the issuance of show cause orders against four BI lawyers allegedly involved in the scheme and the abolition of the visa task force of the agency’s Legal Division.

A fact finding group has also been established to dig deeper into the matter, he added.

Tansingco said he will not hesitate to recommend to the Justice secretary the imposition of administrative disciplinary sanctions against BI personnel who are found to be involved in the fraudulent scheme.

Under civil service rules, the secretary of Justice is the administrative disciplining authority of BI employees and personnel.

“Anti-corruption measures have always been on top of our priority list following the many issues that the BI has faced in the past,” said Tansingco.

Senator Risa Hontiveros said the issuance of work visas to fake corporations was a national security risk, saying the holders of the visas could be criminals or belong to a syndicate.

“I do welcome the Department of Justice (DOJ) directive that orders the BI to stop granting work visas requested by fake companies. This is an important move to stop corruption,” she said.

Hontiveros said the BI must do more to clean up its ranks.

It has been four years since the “pastillas scam,” she said. “Why does it seem like nothing has changed? When will the BI be cleansed? How many Senate hearings do we need?”

On Tuesday, the DOJ said it would go after BI officers and officials who were linked to the issuance of thousands of 9G visas or pre-arranged employment visas to about 500 fictitious companies.

Remulla said he had met with Tansingco Monday at the DOJ to discuss the proliferation of 9G visas issued to fake corporations.

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