SEN. Risa Hontiveros yesterday bared another modus operandi where agents of the Bureau of Immigration (BI) supposedly facilitate the stress-free departure of prospective overseas Filipino workers in cahoots with local recruiters, who subsequently “sell” the workers as slaves abroad.
The local recruiters, according to the testimony of supposed victims of the trafficking scheme, allegedly paid the immigration agents P50,000 each for the easy and smooth departure of the victims.
Hontiveros, who is the chairwoman of the Senate Committee on Women, Children, Family Relations and Gender Equality, said her staff were able to interview online three Filipinas who are now working in Damascus, Syria.
She narrated the ordeal of “Alice,” who said she was made to believe by her local recruiter that she would be working in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. She never made it to Dubai because she was allegedly “sold” to a family in Damascus.
Hontiveros said Alice is still at her employer’s home in Syria when interviewed online by her staff.
Alice named her local recruiter as a certain “Ana,” whom she said enticed her to work in Dubai as a domestic helper with a monthly salary of $400. She narrated Ana would tag her along either at the Robinson’s Place in Ermita, Manila or to Rizal Park where she supposedly met with and paid P50,000 per head to BI employees who would be in charge of her recruits’ seamless departure.
At the airport, Alice said three other BI agents escorted her – one at the main entrance, another at the BI Counter 1 Desk, and the third escorted her to the airplane.
Alice said Ana told her she instead be going to Damascus when their flight had a stopover in Malaysia. Upon arrival in Syria, Alice said she was met by Ana’s counterpart there and was brought to a recruitment agency where her cellphone and other documents were confiscated.
After 12 days, she learned that her Syrian employer bought her for $1,000 from the agency. She said she was made to work for a relative of the Syrian president and was paid $200 a month, instead of the $400 earlier promised her. Alice said she was made to work from 10 a.m. to 3 a.m. the following day, leaving her only with seven hours of rest.
Five months later, her employer started to hurt her when she asked to be sent home as she does not like to work in Syria. The incident allegedly happened again last year after her employer found out that she has sought the help of the Philippine Embassy.
“Sinaktan ulit ako dahil nabasa nila mga e-mail ko, kinuha nila (cellphone ko) kasi tumatawag ang embassy sa kanila na humihingi ako ng tulong (They hurt me again after my employer read my e-mail seeking assistance from our embassy. They took my cellphone because the embassy started to call them since I was asking for help),” Alice said.
Hontiveros asked the BI to furnish her office the names of the immigration officers who stamped Alice’s passport as “that would constitute a violation of the Anti-Trafficking in Persons Act.”
She said she also have the testimonies of two other trafficked women that she will reveal in a Senate hearing.
“I am calling the Department of Foreign Affairs and the Department of Justice to attend to this matter immediately. In the middle of a global pandemic, our kababayans (countrymen) are stuck in a war-torn country. They promise to cooperate with the government to stop illegal syndicates. Our government should stop at nothing, I will stop at nothing, to get these women home,” she said.
Hontiveros said the cases of Alice and two other trafficked women were clear cases of “modern slavery” since they were sold by the recruiters to an employer for $1,000.
Immigration Commissioner Jaime Morente promised to look into Hontiveros’ disclosure and vowed to impose the harshest penalty against the immigration officers involved in the trafficking of Filipino women.
“As demonstrated in the past, the agency will implement the harshest penalties against anyone who violates their oath. We will not hesitate to put to justice any immigration personnel implicated in trafficking schemes,” Morente said, adding: “We will be fully cooperating with the investigation of Senator Hontiveros as we share a common goal of eradicating corruption in the bureau.” – With Ashzel Hachero