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CA affirms dismissal of 3 BI officers involved in 'pastillas' scam

The Court of Appeals (CA) has affirmed the dismissal from service of three Bureau of Immigration (BI) officers over their involvement in the ‘pastillas’ scam, which allowed the illegal entry of Chinese citizens into the country.

In a 23-page decision, the CA Special Sixth Division denied the petition filed by BI officers Aurelo Lucero, George Bituin, and Salahudin Hadjinoor seeking the reversal of the March 2022 decision of the Office of the Ombudsman that dismissed them from service.

They were found administratively liable for grave misconduct and conduct prejudicial to the best interest of the service.

“We emphasize that findings of administrative agencies, when based on substantive evidence such as the testimony of a credible whistleblower, deserve great respect by courts and can be the basis for the imposition of administrative liability on a public officer,” the CA said.

“As the Office of the Ombudsman found Lucero, Bituin, and Hadjinoor to be part of the pastillas group based on overwhelming substantial evidence against them, we see no reason to depart from the same,” it added.

The CA said it gave weight to the positive identification of whistleblowers Allison Chiong and Jeffrey Dale Ignacio against the three former officers.

They identified Lucero, Bituin and Hadjinoor as administrators of the Timbre Central Viber group chat, which was responsible for forwarding the list of foreign nationals to various Viber group chats of the ‘pastillas’ group.

They were also the ones responsible for the distribution of ‘pastillas’ or money to their members. 

Meanwhile, the CA dismissed the administrative charge for grave misconduct and conduct prejudicial to the best interest of the service against BI officer Frances Flores for lack of substantial evidence.

The CA ordered her to be reinstated to her previous position.|

“In fine, there was no substantial evidence to prove Flores' participation in the pastillas' scheme, and consequently, the administrative complaint against her should be dismissed,” the CA said.

The court said she is also entitled to back wages from the time of her unlawful dismissal in March 2022, at the rate last received by her without qualification and deduction, until the date of her actual reinstatement.—RF, GMA Integrated News