Senator Joel Villanueva on Tuesday, March 23 urged the government to strengthen its agreements with countries that host overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) to prevent Filipino jobseekers from falling prey to human trafficking syndicates.
Villanueva, who chairs the Senate Committee on Labor and Human Resources, made the call in light of the testimony of “Diane” an OFW who was trafficked to Syria against her will and narrated how Bureau of Immigration (BI) officials facilitated her speedy departure from the airports in connivance with her illegal recruiter.
Diane, not her real name to protect her identity, testified at the Senate Committee on Women, Children, Family Relations and Gender Equality’s hearing into the so-called “pastillas” scheme and the outbound trafficking of Filipino women on Tuesday.
Also during the hearing, “pastillas” scam whistleblower Allison “Alex” Chiong, testified that aside from Syria, the alleged group involved in the outbound trafficking of Filipino women were also sending Filipinos to other parts of the world like Europe and South Korea.
In the case of South Korea, Chiong said some Filipinos trafficked to this country are given an E6 visa which is granted to workers in the culture and entertainment industries.
“Especially yung E6 visa sa South Korea, you enter there as entertainer—but yun yung sinasabi na (those they identify as) prostitute,” Chiong explained.
“Yun po yung pinakamabigat na visa, kasi yung E6 visa po magtatrabaho sa club, then kinukulong yung mga babae dun, (That’s the most controversial visa. Because some of those granted the E6 visa are forced to work in clubs then they are illegally detained),” the witness further said.
Villanueva said he believes bilateral agreements would allow the government to run after third-country recruiters who send Filipinos to perilous locations, like Syria where a total ban on deployment has been in place since 2011.
“Under the bilateral labor agreements, there would be sufficient protection for our countrymen against human trafficking syndicates that prey on the situation of our workers,” Villanueva said.
“In our labor committee hearings, it has been well-established that the rise of third-country recruitment poses a huge threat to our ongoing efforts against illegal recruitment and human trafficking…The crafting of bilateral agreements to strengthen coordination would be one step to solve this,” he stressed.
Villanueva also lamented the situation of a Filipino worker whom “Diane” said is currently languishing in jail, unless she pays US$5,000 to her employer to “buy out” her contract.
“It is also worth noting that despite the deployment ban, the Syrian government treats our workers as legitimate workers who have valid employment contracts and even residency permits,” the lawmaker pointed out.
“Clearly there is a disconnect happening that’s why we need to address this problem so that our countrymen, who only want to give a better life to their families, would not fall victims again,” he said.
The senator, likewise, commended chargé d’affaires Vida Soraya Verzosa at the Philippine Embassy in Syria for looking after the plight of trafficked Filipino women.
Verzosa told the Senate women’s panel that the embassy has stopped the practice of buying out contracts and instead worked with the Syrian government on handling the situation.