Senate continues investigation into trafficking scheme by 'Chinese mafia'

Jauhn Etienne Villaruel, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Jan 25 2023 12:16 PM | Updated as of Jan 25 2023 09:14 PM

MANILA (UPDATE) -- A Senate panel on Wednesday continued its investigation into the several cases of human trafficking victimizing Filipinos, supposedly perpetrated by a Chinese mafia or syndicate.

“This is nothing less than a looming humanitarian crisis perpetrated by the vilest of criminal syndicates... We need to stop at nothing until those who collude with these syndicates are put behind bars. Anything short of this will only lead to more Filipinos being thrown to the wolves,” Sen. Risa Hontiveros said during the Senate Committee on Women, Children, Family Relations, and Gender Equality hearing.

Hontiveros presented some victims of the alleged syndicate.

“Marami nang napabalitang nasibak pero tuluy-tuloy parin ang pagre-recruit ng mga Pilipino para mang-scam. May mga contact pa ba ang sindikato sa loob ng BI (Bureau of Immigration)? Bakit hindi ito maampat?” the senator asked.

Hontiveros urged a thorough investigation of BI officials, saying the Chinese mafia may have more connections inside the agency.

Alias "Ron," one of the Filipinos trafficked to Cambodia, said that his Chinese employers coerced him to recruit other Filipinos to work for the crypto scam operations.

Ron shared that their head of recruitment, a certain Rachel Almendra Luna, has contacts with Immigration officers in Clark airport.

"Tahasang sinabi ni Rachel na nag-aabot sila sa Immigration officer para makalabas yung mga Pilipino, pero hindi niya binigay ang mga pangalan ng mga contact nila sa immigration,” he said in the hearing.

Ron added that their recruitment happened on Facebook groups, prompting Hontiveros to call out the social media platform.

“Facebook needs to be answerable for these trafficking schemes that are perpetrated on their platform. The company has to be aware of this modus and be on the lookout for these kinds of posts. I-take down o i-block na dapat ang mga accounts o posts na mga ito para hindi na makapag-recruit pa ng Pilipino,” Hontiveros said.

The witness also disclosed that his employer had him go through the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) using another company’s name, fake invitation letters, and other papers. Despite the false documents, he was given an Overseas Employment Certificate.

“Hindi ba ang employment contract ay dapat i-verify at i-authenticate? Wala bang kahit anong screening to identify possible red flags? Can syndicates hire right under the nose of the Philippine government?” Hontiveros asked. 

Meanwhile, Sen. Raffy Tulfo called on law enforcement agencies to identify and arrest the human trafficking syndicates as soon as possible. 

"Trafficking in human beings violates the basic rights of victims, hence it should be equated as a crime against humanity," Tulfo emphasized. 

Tulfo also encouraged members of the Inter-Agency Council Against Trafficking (IACAT) to be "united" in their approach against human trafficking and ensure that human traffickers are convicted and punished. 

During the same hearing, the Inter-Agency Council Against Trafficking (IACAT) vowed to "revive" its airport task forces in NAIA and Clark, which Undersecretary Nicholas Felix Ty admitted to have been "inactive" when the pandemic broke out.

"Unfortunately noong pandemic naging inactive ang mga task force na ito dahil wala masyadong lumalabas na Pilipino... Kami ay in the process na buhayin talaga 'to," he said.

After the hearing, Hontiveros said she hopes that the Executive would also make its own moves to put a stop on the newest human trafficking scheme.

"I would be glad kung bukod sa amin dito sa Senado ang Executive din bukod sa mga departmento na lumalahok na sa aming imbestigasyon will really seriously crackdown on this within our national borders and beyond simula na sa ASEAN," Hontiveros told reporters.

Hontiveros last year uncovered the trafficking of Filipinos in Myanmar. Last week, she revealed that another batch of Filipinos were also forced to work as "crypto scammers," this time in Cambodia.

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