By Vann Marlo M. Villegas, Reporter

FIVE IMMIGRATION officials were relieved from their posts and re-assigned pending an investigation of an alleged bribery scheme involving Chinese workers in local offshore gaming companies.

The officials were taken out of their posts “due to command responsibility,” Immigration spokesperson Dana Krizia M. Sandoval said in a mobile-phone message on Tuesday.

“But the investigation does not revolve entirely around them,” she said. “We’re looking at the bigger picture, all that might be connected to this alleged scheme, whether internal or external.”

This comes after senators on Monday exposed the illegal scheme that allows Chinese nationals to enter the country for a fee.

Many of them end up working for offshore gaming companies here, Senator Risa N. Hontiveros-Baraquel said earlier.

During a Senate hearing, the lawmaker showed a video of incoming Chinese nationals being escorted to an office at the international airport in Manila.

She also showed screenshots of Viber messages among Immigration officers discussing the bribery scheme, as well as a worksheet containing the P10,000 paid by each of the tourists.

Immigration Commissioner Jaime H. Morente on Monday ordered a probe of the practice.

The bureau earlier asked the Justice department and National Bureau of Investigation to probe corrupt practices at the airports, including human trafficking and escort services.

“We are already short-staffed, but this is a sacrifice we have to do to ensure the smoothness of the investigation,” Ms. Sandoval said.

Immigration officials who attended Monday’s hearing denied knowledge of the scheme, prompting Ms. Baraquel to say that they were either complicit or negligent.

The Senate body was tackling the illegal entry of Chinese nationals who end up working in offshore gaming companies in the Philippines.

Some female workers had also been allegedly trafficked and forced to work as sex slaves.

Ms. Baraquel told reporters after the hearing it was unlikely that Immigration officials were ignorant of the illegal scheme.

She noted that if reforms had really been started, the bureau would have discovered the scheme a long time ago.

The lawmaker said the government must order a crackdown against unscrupulous Immigration officials involved in the anomaly.

The Senate committee will examine at its next hearing the cost and benefit of offshore gaming companies, whose operators and clients are mostly Chinese.