Washington Post article exposes trafficking of Filipinas to Syria

Zen Hernandez, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Jan 27 2021 06:56 PM

MANILA - An article in an American publication has exposed the plight of Filipinas trafficked to Syria.

Thirty-five female trafficking victims are currently stuck at the Philippine Embassy in Damascus, Syria, according to an article by the Washington Post dated January 25, 2021.

Some of the Filipinas have been there for as long as two years due to their inability to secure Syrian exit visas and money for flights home, the article read.

Many of them escaped their employers and sought sanctuary at the embassy, but reportedly received ill treatment from embassy staff. 

According to the article, those caught sneaking extra food from the kitchen were denied breakfast for 2 weeks as punishment.

The dormitory-style rooms where they are locked in at night are also cold during winter.

Embassy staff supposedly pressured some of the women to return to the Syrian households they escaped from, while their phones were confiscated to prevent them from complaining to families. 

Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. already assured that the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) will immediately repatriate all those currently seeking shelter at the embassy in Damascus, and launch an investigation into the alleged poor treatment. 

“Oh hell. I will wring the necks of those in the Philippine Embassy in Damascus who failed to report this. My President will expect no less from me. Hell is coming,” he tweeted last January 25, 2021.

He adds, there is a deployment ban to Syria since 2011 and Filipinos trafficked there risk life and limb. Syria continues to suffer from a multi-side civil war.

According to the Washington Post, research for the story started after 15 of the said Filipinas appealed for help through a Facebook video.

Most of them were promised work in Dubai but were forcefully sent to Syria and sold for $8,000 to $10,000 to employers in need of household helpers. Those who tried objecting were threatened to be killed and physically assaulted. 

In Syria, they were subjected to further physical and sexual attacks, salaries were either delayed or completely denied, and some were denied food and made to work for 18 hours daily with no rest days, the article said.

Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello said there is no Philippine Overseas Labor Office (POLO) in Syria and repatriation of all undocumented Filipino workers are under the DFA’s jurisdiction. But the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) will still look into the matter.

“Ang pwede namin magawa diyan is to find out kung ano or sino yung nag-deploy sa kanila, kung anong agency. 'Pag nalaman namin kung ano 'yung agency na 'yun ay tiyak na either we will cancel their franchise or even sue them for illegal recruitment,” Bello said.

Bello lamented however how a number of Filipinos still choose the easier but illegal path to get overseas jobs. Most are aware that they are dealing with illegal recruiters, yet they opt to skip government procedures, he said.

One of the victims in Syria, for example, was recruited when she was 12 years old and cooperated with a recruitment agency that falsified her age. She claimed though that her employer knows she was underage.

Instead of work visas, the Filipinas also received 30-day tourist visas. They were locked up until the visas expired and were eventually flown to Syria in batches, according to the report.

OFW rights advocate Susan “Toots” Ople, who founded the Blas F. Ople Policy Center and Training Institute for OFWS, says trafficking of Filipinos are carried out by Filipino agents who get commissions for every worker they deploy.

The Ople Policy Center, in coordination with the DFA, will provide the victims with legal assistance should they decide to pursue cases against their employers and recruiters, she said.

"May mga ahensya na Syrian-owned na may mga ahe-ahente na umiikot sa mga probinsya. 'Yun 'yung nag-aalok na aalis ka papuntang Kuala Lumpur muna. Tapos, tutuntong ka ng Dubai. Pagdating sa Dubai, may sasalo sa'yo. 'Yun ay mga kasabwat na ng mga agencies at brokers sa Syria,” Ople said.