Senators see emerging humanitarian crisis in crypto scam operations in Myanmar, Cambodia

Senators on Wednesday, January 25 said they see an emerging humanitarian crisis if the recruitment of Filipinos for cryptoscamming operations continue to persist.

Sen. Risa Hontiveros, chairperson of the Senate Committee on Women, Children, Family Relations and Gender Equality, pointed this out during the resumption of its probe into the number of Filipinos being recruited and rescued from criminal syndicates who are using them in scam operations in Myanmar and also in Cambodia.

“This is nothing less than an emerging humanitarian crisis perpetrated by the vilest of criminal syndicates. Mga mararahas na sindikato na binubusalan, tinatali at kinukuryente ang mga empleyado. Mga walang pakundangan kung manuhol (Violent syndicates who gag, bind and electrocute employees. Shamefully bribing other people),” Hontiveros said.

“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,” the senator added.

During the hearing, a witness revealed that an employee of the Bureau of Immigration (BI) based in Clark, Pampanga facilitated the travel of the victims abroad.

Sen. Raffy Tulfo and Hontiveros questioned concerned government agencies, including airport officials, how these victims were able to get out the country with fake papers.

During the hearing, “Ron” one of the victims who was trafficked to Cambodia and was rescued by authorities testified that his Chinese employers coerced him to recruit other Filipinos to work for the crypto cam operations.

According to Ron, their head of recruitment, a certain Rachel Almendra Luna, has contacts with Bureau of Immigration (BI) officers in Clark International Airport.

“Rachel clearly said that they are reaching out to the Immigration Officer so that the Filipinos can get out, but she did not give the names of their immigration contacts,” the witness said in the hearing.

Ron also said that they conduct their recruitment on Facebook groups by posting job advertisments calling on Filipinos to apply for a customer service agent position in Cambodia with a promising salary of at least $600 per month.

With this information, Hontiveros said 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 (They should take down or block these accounts or posts so they won’t be able to recruit more Filipinos),” Hontiveros said.

Also in the hearing, Ron 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. He was given an Overseas Employment Certificate even though he submitted fake documents.

Hontiveros said it is imperative for Philippine authorities to work closely with their counterparts in other nations to eradicate human trafficking.

“Facebook, Telegram, WhatsApp, Linked In, dating apps, and other social media platforms and messaging sites are also involved here. This is where the fake recruitment of OFWs happens, and fraud against foreigners also happens on social media. These sites have been enabling flexibility and anonymity of illegal recruiters and human traffickers,” Hontiveros lamented.

“So this is not just a problem of the Philippines or our neighboring ASEAN countries. Human trafficking that leads to pig butchering scams is global, it is inter-agency, and digital. It is time we address it at that scale,” she pointed out.

Tulfo, for his part, called on law enforcement agencies to identify and arrest the human trafficking syndicates as soon as possible noting how these elements are committing a crime against humanity.

“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 to put an end to all forms of human trafficking in the country.