An overseas Filipino worker (OFW) who was trafficked to Syria claimed on Tuesday, March 23 that she was able leave the Philippines with the “help” of corrupt Bureau of Immigration (BI) officials who are in cahoots with her recruiter.
The OFW, who was only identified as “Diana” for her protection, recounted her ordeal—from being illegally recruited in the Philippines to being forced to have an abortion en route to Syria—at the resumption of the Senate Committee on Women and Children’s hearing on the so-called “pastillas scam.”
According to Diana, she was promised a job in Dubai or Egypt but was trafficked to the war-torn country in 2017.
She told the panel, chaired by Sen. Risa Hontiveros, her illegal recruiter, an agent named “Maam Beth” paid BI officers to let her out of the country without inspection.
“Sinabihan ako na pagpasok ng immigration, antayin ko ang text niya kasi hindi kami pwedeng magkamali ng punta ng ibang counter, (I was told that before entering immigration I must wait for her text because we can’t afford to make a mistake in going through a different counter” Diana said during panel’s Tuesday, March 23 hearing.
“Through text, tinuturuan ako ng taga (I was taught by the) recruitment agency kung ano ang dapat gawin (what to do), step by step. Sinabihan ako na babae ang nasa (I was told a woman would be at the) counter. Hindi ko lang maalala kung ano ang number ng (I just can’t remember the number of the) counter,” she pointed out.
After arriving in Malaysia, someone from the recruitment agency fetched her and another recruit and brought them to a “house” where she found many Filipino women also waiting for their visas.
During her stay in Malaysia, Diana recalled how she even accompanied one of the recruiters to a money remittance center to wire money as payment to their “contact” at the BI.
When her visa arrived, she immediately flew to Syria. However, she found then that she was pregnant.
Diana said she begged her recruiters to be allowed to go home but they forced her to abort the baby.
“Nagmamakaawa ako na pauwiin ako pero hindi ako pinayagan. Sinabihan ako na, ‘kaya mo bang bayaran ang perang ginastos namin sa iyo.’ Ayoko po talaga magpalaglag pero halos sampalin ako (I begged them to let me go home, but they won’t refused. I was told ‘Can you afford to pay us the money we spent on you? I really don’t want to have an abortion but they nearly hit me),” she narrated.
“Wala na ako magawa kundi inumin – pinasok ko yung gamot na Cytotec sa bunganga at sa puwerta (I have no choice but to take the drug—I put the drug Cytotec inside my mouth and organ),” an emotional Diana recalled.
Hontiveros said Diana’s story is similar to the experience of three other trafficked women—‘Alice,’ ‘Belen,’ and ‘Carol’—who last week disclosed to her office how immigration officers were paid by their recruiter to allow them to exit from the Philippines.
Allison “Alex” Chiong, the witness who blew the whistle on the so-called “pastillas scam” that involves in Chinese personalities in the Philippine Offshore Gaming Operators (POGO)-related prostitution, affirmed Diana’s testimony.
According to Chiong, even visa readers of some airline companies, are also involved in the outbound trafficking scheme. Even the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI), he said, is aware of this.
“May na-entrap na ang NBI noon. May nahuling visa reader …pagkakaalam ko (The NBI was able to entrap a visa reader before…As far as I know there are) several airlines that are involved dahil marami tayong (because we have many) airlines bound to Middle East,” Chiong said, responding to a question of Sen. Joel Villanueva.
BI Commissioner Jaime Morente, who was present at the virtual hearing, said he was “really at a loss for words” after hearing Diana’s testimony.
“I would assure my all-out support for this (Senate) investigation. Kaisa ako sa hangarin na mapanagot at maparusahan ang mga mapapatunayan na involved sa (I am one with you in this aspiration to prosecute and punish those who would be found guilty of being involved in the) trafficking of Filipino women,” Morente said.