ZAMBOANGA City - Several days after the Sea-Based Anti-Trafficking Task Force (SBATTF) was formed, member-agencies intercepted on Thursday at least 80 women at the Zamboanga City International Airport who were supposedly bound for Kota Kinabalu, Malaysia.
Airport Manager Celso Bayabos said a chartered aircraft has arrived Wednesday night to supposedly ferry the women to their destination.
The Police Center for Aviation Security reportedly received a tip on Thursday morning that the victims of illegal recruitment will board an aircraft at the Zamboanga City Airport.
Police Superintendent Peter Rosano Donato said they wondered why a supposed chartered flight would only carry women passengers. He said the women, between the ages of 20 to 30 years old, did not possess enough money as "tourists", as what was indicated in their passports.
The members were immediately alerted and conducted a profiling of at least 80 women who came from different provinces in the country.
Atty. Ivy Damano, Assistant State Prosecutor, initially said the women all have passports stating that they are tourists, but failed to show working visas. She said the women were promised work in Lebanon and Jordan. These indicators led them to believe that the women could be vulnerable to human trafficking.
Officials added that 46 of the women are now in the custody of the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD), 20 with the Visayan Forum, and 14 with the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI).
Among the women is 20-year-old "Mia" of Davao Oriental. She said she left her husband and 3-year-old daughter purposely to earn money for her family.
She voluntarily approached an alleged recruiter and applied after learning that there were neighbors who left their province to work abroad.
"Wala kaming ginastos except sa pocket money. Pero kung mag-back out daw, kailangan bayaran namin ang P25,000. Ayaw ko na sana kasi natatakot ako, pero wala man kaming pambayad. Nangutang na rin 'yung asawa ko ng pera pang pocket money so itinuloy ko na," she said.
But Mia was even more surprised at the airport in Davao when she was issued a ticket bound for Zamboanga City. She and other companions thought it could be a connecting flight to Malaysia.
Mia, however, said she still did not have the strength to break the news of her failed trip abroad to her husband. She said she will announce it when she gets home as soon as possible. She does not have any plans as well, to file charges against her recruiter.
"Alam ko okay lang 'yun sa kanila na umuwi ako kaagad. Dun ko na lang ikukuwento ang nangyari, kaysa magtagal pa ako dito kasi," she said.
The NBI initiated the first stages of the probe. It admitted that they are having difficulty in extracting possible information that could help in identifying the recruiter.
Regional Director Manuel Almendares said they are still getting the testimonies of the women on the angle that they were trafficked.
"As of this time, the indicators say they were victims of illegal recruitment. From the looks of it, they are vulnerable to human trafficking," he said.
City Prosecutor Ricardo Cabaron has recommended to the SBATTF to temporarily hold the aircraft which supposedly would have carried the women to Malaysia.
"It is important to know who the charterer is, why are they here," he said.
Airport officials said the aircraft has secured requirements such as a Customs Immigration and Quarantine certificate, and an entry and exit clearance before its flight to Zamboanga City. However, authorities will have to conduct a further probe since the aircraft's crew did not inform them who their passengers were.
Cabaron has also received orders from Justice Secretary Leila de Lima to conduct a deep probe of the rescue of the women.