48 nabbed in biggest anti-trafficking catch in Bongao

By Jake Soriano, VERA Files

Posted at Apr 11 2014 01:23 PM | Updated as of Apr 11 2014 09:23 PM

BONGAO, Tawi-tawi—A team of Marines and policemen intercepted around noon Thursday 48 people, 12 of them minors, believed recruited by a human trafficking syndicate for work in Malaysia.

The arrest constitutes what advocates called the biggest catch in the government’s anti-trafficking efforts here this year.

Elements of the Philippine Marine Battalion Landing Team 5, Bongao Inter-agency Task force Against Trafficking in Persons (BIATFAT), and the Philippine National Police-Regional Maritime Unit apprehended the group as it disembarked from a commercial vessel at the Bongao port.

“This is the biggest number of intercepted potential human trafficking victims we have seen this year,” said Rosabella Sulani, BIATFAT focal person.

The sheer number of people attracted the attention of law enforcers, who proceeded to round them up. Members of the group had no travel papers but were on their way to Malaysia.

They said they came from different parts of the Zamboanga peninsula, had boarded the vessel in Zamboanga City, and were headed for Malaysia via Tawi-Tawi.

The oldest member of the group was a 67-year-old grandfather. The youngest was only 2 years old.

The group included a couple with two children, aged 8 and 9. The father said he was promised work in a palm oil plantation in Malaysia, and was planning to save enough to set up a business when he returns to Zamboanga Sibugay with his family.

The couple, who asked to be identified only as Ricky and Micel, pawned the family motorcycle which was its regular source of income to raise the money they needed to travel to Malaysia.

The entire family traveled paperless, save for Ricky's postal identification card and Micel's barangay ID.

The group was promised employment in a palm oil plantation in Sabah, Malaysia. Some of them had been to Malaysia before, while for Ricky and Micel, it would have been their first time.

Their contacts in Malaysia were Filipinos known to them only by nicknames: Ding-ding, Monib, Ate Rose, Kuya Dodo, Eliong. The members of the group said they were connected to these people by relatives or by people they knew from their towns.

This brings to 164 the number of potential trafficking-in-persons victims in 2014, based on records from the provincial police.

The 48 will be processed by the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) in Bongao, and will later be turned over to the DSWD in Zamboanga City for further processing.

(This story is part of VERA Files’ project Human Trafficking Casewatch supported by the U.S. Embassy’s Small Grants Facility and Embassy of Canada. VERA Files is put out by veteran journalists taking a deeper look into current issues. VERA is Latin for true.)