Senator Risa Hontiveros on Tuesday, March 16 said she will investigate the supposed involvement of Bureau of Immigration (BI) officials in the outbound trafficking of Filipino women.
Hontiveros made the commitment after hearing the personal account of a Filipino woman who was trafficked into Syria and recounted how she was able to make it past immigration counter after some BI officers aided her supposed recruiter.
“It seems BI officials are again involved in illegal trade. They seem to be venturing into all kinds of money-making schemes at the airport. How many mutations of ‘pastillas’ scam are we still unaware of?” Hontiveros pointed out during a virtual forum.
The trafficked woman named “Alice” told Hontiveros that she was promised work in Dubai but found out later during a stopover in Malaysia that she is bound to Syria. According to Ali ce, her recruiter “Ana”, would pay BI officers who then would meet her and other trafficked women at the counter number 1 immigration desk in the airport.
According to “Alice” she overheard immigration officials demanding P50,000 from “Ana” before allowing her and another trafficked person to pass through the immigration counter.
She also said they would be asked to sign a white paper, then one person would meet them at the gate, another person at counter line number 1 and another different person will wait for them at the airplane.
All these, she said, are BI employees.
Aside from her illegal exit from the country, “Alice” also shared how her Syrian employer would hurt her, being held down by body guards of her employer, while she is mauled, kicked and slapped.
Her employer, she said, is supposedly a relative of the Syrian president.
Hontiveros, who chairs the Senate Committee on Women, Children, Family Relations and Gender Equality, said she will officially request the BI to furnish the names of the immigration officers who stamped “Alice’s” passport.
The senator noted the actions of the BI officials involved constitute a violation of the Anti-Trafficking in Persons Act.
“There’s a huge penalty for this and it is non-bailable. This is a case of large-scale trafficking, and trafficking in syndicate. This is punishable by life imprisonment,” she emphasized.
Aside from Alice, Hontiveros said there were two other testimonies of trafficked women who were indubitably tricked, as they never consented to being brought to Syria. She said these women were also held against their will in various ways and were also abused.
“They were promised of getting at least a $400 salary, but they were only receiving $200. They experienced so many different forms of abuse. And it seems our own officials are involved in their trafficking. Our immigration officers seem to be sending our women into slavery,” she said.
At the same time, Hontiveros urged the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) and the Department of Justice (DOJ) to look into the matter immediately.
“In the middle of a global pandemic, our own citizens are stuck in a war-torn country,” she said.
“Our government should stop at nothing—I will stop at nothing—to get these women home,” the lawmaker reiterated.